By Daniel Ricketson
To H.A.W., Nov. 1859
Still the warm current flows along his veins.
His noble heart still beats to freedom true,
And finds a deep repose where virtue reigns,
His soul sublime, and calm as heaven’s own blue.
O thou who hold’st his life-blood in thy hands,
List to the voice of God that speaks within;
His life or death depends on thy commands,
O, nobly spare him, and escape the sin:
For surely as he dies, upon thy soul
His blood will leave an everlasting stain.
Spare but thy hand to do a deed so foul,
For God to thee hath made thy duty plain.
O, spare the brave old man, and thousands here
Will bless thy name, thy future days will cheer.
We spent a lovely afternoon in Harpers Ferry, driving over the Potomac and then the Shenandoah into West Virginia with a picnic that we ate at the national park visitor center before taking one of the park service buses into the lower town, which still looks very much as it did after the flood of 1936, though older buildings have been restored or marked in outline with stones for visitors. There are more museums in the town than anyone could visit in a single day; we went to the blacksmith shop, the mill ruins, the national park information center, the John Brown Museum, John Brown's fort, the small exhibit on Shenandoah wetlands, and the old railroad bridge.
We thought about climbing to Jefferson Rock above the town to see the view of the Potomac River passing through the Blue Ridge that Thomas Jefferson called "one of the most stupendous scenes in nature," but it was over 90 degrees, so we stopped in town to get water ice first, and by the time we'd walked back down the hill past the free trade store, a thunderstorm came out of nowhere and drenched us. Since the kids had homework, we decided to call it a day, though Adam was lobbying to go kayaking or rafting like many of the local visitors, so I'm sure we'll go back relatively soon to enjoy the water and see the African-American history museum.
Historic structures, including St. Peter's Catholic Church, the hardware store, and the railroad tracks in Harpers Ferry.
The ruins of the Child & McCreight flour mill on Virginius Island, destroyed in the same flood that turned the Shenandoah Canal into the wetlands that it is today.
A National Park Service volunteer stoking the fire in the blacksmith shop.
Arsenal Square, onetime site of the armory John Brown intended to capture so he could distribute its weapons to slaves who could then fight for their freedom. The raid failed, though it was a rallying point for Northern abolitionists like the one who wrote the poem above, which in turn contributed to the South's decision to secede from the Union. In this town he is remembered as a hero.
Weapons like these were made at the Harpers Ferry Armory. Two years after John Brown's raid, the armory was burned to the ground by the federal garrison to keep Virginia troops from taking the weapons.
Harpers Ferry was important strategically because of its canal and railroad as well. Several train bridges were destroyed in floods in the 1880s and 1930s, but this one is still working -- we saw the train pass while walking on the footbridge that's part of the Appalachian Trail.
Frederick Roeder ran the confectionary shop in the town when he became the first resident to die during the Civil War, accidentally struck by a Union bullet, though he was a Union sympathizer. His home and shop were later taken over by the Union Army.
Of course, in a place with so much natural beauty, we had to stop and see the wildlife. Here are a mother wood duck and her nearly-grown ducklings trying to avoid a big turtle.