Refutation of several Romances about the execution of John Brown. [from the Christian Intelligencer of October 15th, 1884.]
Letter from Rev. William Elliott Griffis.
To the Editor of the Christian Intelligencer:Having been for years desirous of testing the truth of the traditions concerning the death of John Brown, of Harpers Ferry fame, as expressed in poetry, painting, song, and so-called ‘history,’ I spent a portion of my summer vacation of this year in a trip through the Shenandoah valley. There I met, conversed with, and cross questioned living witnesses of Brown's trial and execution, both white and colored. Among these were the now venerable lawyer who conducted the prosecution, members of the sheriff's family, the present owner of the gallows on which the hanging was done, and the owner of Brown's Bible. Besides their testimony, I found in talking with old residents of Charlestown and Harpers Ferry, that both among eye-witnesses and those whose knowledge came by hearing, as well as studying every spot made memorable by the ‘raid,’ that the local traditions were not only singularly in harmony, but diverged at certain points very widely from those received as undoubted truth north of the Potomac, and especially in New England. Believing that historic truth should be as sacred as religious truth, I ask you to give space to the publication of two documents, which I herewith enclose, each of which explains itself. Furthermore, I have more than once been shocked to find, in print and on platform, comparisons drawn between the scenes of Calvary and Charlestown, and the central figure in each scene. Believing that violence to veracity and religion is done thereby—since fiction has no place beside fact, much less falsehood near truth—I believe that you will do good to publish this letter of the Rev. Abner Hopkins, and the sworn testimony of Captain Avis. Since the Hon. Thomas Hughes, to whom the letter was addressed, took no notice of it, I requested a copy for publication in the interest of common honesty and simple truth. What is said about Brown's Bible I can corroborate from careful scrutiny of its pages. I examined the original of the jailor's affidavit, as well as the true copy of Brown's will. Furthermore, the details of the report of Captain Avis accord with what was told by the prosecuting lawyer, who was with Brown almost continuously