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Marker celebrates city's link to John Brown

June 30, 2009|By DAVE McMILLION

HAGERSTOWN -- Harpers Ferry, W.Va., is most commonly linked to John Brown's October 1859 raid on a federal arsenal during his failed attempt to arm an uprising of slaves.

But Hagerstown played a part in the string of events, too, and that moment in history was celebrated Tuesday afternoon during an unveiling of a historical marker downtown.

From Oct. 16 to 18, 1859, Brown and others took possession of an armory in Harpers Ferry. The raid drew militia companies and federal troops from Maryland, Virginia and other areas.

On Oct. 18 of that year, 12 U.S. Marines broke down the door of a fire-engine house, and Brown and his group were captured.

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Brown was charged in a conspiracy case, convicted and hanged in Charles Town, W.Va., on Dec. 2, 1859.

Brown registered at Hagerstown's Washington House Hotel on West Washington Street on June 30, 1859, and signed an alias -- I. Smith -- on a register, according to the historical marker and other accounts.

Accompanying Brown were his sons, Owen, Oliver and Jeremiah G. Anderson, the marker states.

Jeremiah and Oliver died in the raid, and the hotel burned in 1879, according to the marker, which is installed at the Baldwin House, the current site of the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown.

The marker was unveiled during a 4 p.m. ceremony attended by various local dignitaries, including Hagerstown City Councilwoman Ashley C. Haywood.

Whether Brown is considered a martyr or a terrorist, he was a key player in the Civil War, Haywood said.

When Brown came to Hagerstown, he was in the process of looking for a place to reside and later found the Kennedy farmhouse in the southern part of the county, said Dennis Frye, chief historian at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

"Here's where he organized," Frye told the crowd outside the university complex.

The marker was funded in part through a grant from the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority and is one of 12 that have been placed around town explaining local Civil War history, said Tom Riford, president and chief executive officer of the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The marker shows a photograph of people milling around the outside of the Washington House Hotel and a sign in front of the building advertising music, Bibles and other items.

Also pictured on the marker is a copy of the register of the hotel, which shows a listing for "I. Smith and Sons." The register entry shows Room 6 and place of residence as New York.

The marker was unveiled as the region this year celebrates the 150th anniversary of Brown's raid.

After the unveiling, a concert featuring songs based on the story of Brown was performed.

Historian Stephen Bockmiller was scheduled to talk about the capture of Brown at the Academy Theatre Banquet & Conference Center on East Washington Street at 7 p.m.

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