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[316]

Chapter 4: State evidence closed.

Here was great exultation in Charlestown on Friday, October 28. John E. Cook was brought in as a prisoner, by men who, in a Free State, betrayed and seized him, for the price of his blood, previously offered by Governor Wise. But until this record of the outrage called the trial of John Brown be completed, I will not divert the attention of the reader to the fears and hopes, the crimes and prayers which were agitating the world outside of the Court House and the Jail of Charlestown.

On Friday morning, Mr. Hoyt, a young Boston lawyer, arrived as a volunteer counsel for John Brown; and, although declining to act until he obtained a knowledge of the case, was qualified as a member of the bar.

The testimony for the prosecution was resumed. Colonel Washington, recalled, stated that he heard Captain Brown frequently complain of the bad faith of the people by firing on his men when under a flag of truce; “but he heard him make no threat, nor utter any vindictiveness against them;” and that, “during the [317] day, one of Brown's sons was shot in the breast, the ball passing around to the side; but he took his weapon again and fired repeatedly before his sufferings compelled him to retire.”

Mr. Hunter then laid before the Jury the printed Constitution and Ordinance of the Provisional Government, and a large bundle of letters and papers. He asked that the Sheriff, who knew the handwriting of the prisoner, be brought to identify his handwriting.

John Brown. I will identify any of my handwriting, and save all that trouble. I am ready to face the music.

Mr. Hunter. I prefer to prove them by Mr. Campbell.

John Brown. Either way you please.

The bundle of letters was then opened; each was identified by Campbell, and then handed to the prisoner, who, in a firm tone, replied, “Yes-- that is mine,” as soon as he recognized his writing.

Mr. hunter presented the form of Government established by the insurgents, and read a list of the members of the Convention. It is headed, “William Charles Morris, President of the Convention, and II. Kagi, Secretary of the Convention.” On handing the list to Brown, he exclaimed, with a groan, “That is my signature.”

3r. Ball, master machinist of the Armory, one of the prisoners made by Captain Brown, testified as to his arrest, and stated that he “was conducted to Captain Brown, who told me his object was to free the slaves, and not the making of war on the people; that my person and private property would be safe; that his war was against the accursed system of slavery; that he had power to do it, and would carry it out; it was no child's play he had undertaken. He then gave me permission to return to my family, to assure them of my safety and get my breakfast; started back home, and was accompanied by two armed men, who stopped at the door; breakfast not being ready, went back, and was allowed to return home again, under escort, at a later hour; on returning again, Captain Brown said it was his determination to seize the arms and munitions of the Government, to arm the blacks to defend thl ti-s-lives against their masters.” [318]

He testified, also, as to several incidents narrated in the account of the fight. He added, in his cross-examination, that--

Brown repeatedly said that he would injure no one but in self-defence, and Coppic frequently urged us to seek places of safety; but Brown did not — he appeared to desire us to take care of ourselves. There were three or four slaves in the engine house; they had spears, but all seemed badly scared; Washington Phil was ordered by Brown to cut a port-hole through the brick wall; he continued until a brisk fire commenced outside, when he said, “This is getting too hot for Phil,” and he squatted. Brown then took up the tools and finished the hole.

John Allstadt told how he was brought from his farm by a party of men who declared that their object was to “free the country from slavery;” described his detention at the engine house, and various incidents of the fight there; said that “the negroes were placed in the watch house with spears in their hands, but showed no disposition to use them; that he saw Phil making port-holes by the Captain's order, but that the other negroes did nothing, and had dropped their weapons some of them being asleep nearly all the time; that John Brown's rifle was always cocked, and that he believed, although he would not swear, that it was the old man himself who shot the marine.”

Alexander Kelly described the manner of Thomas Boerley's death. He was armed with a gun when killed. George W. Turner, also, was killed as he was levelling his rifle.

Albert Grist described his arrest, by a man armed with a spear, on Sunday night, and his detention in the Armory until he was dismissed by Captain Brown, after delivering a message to the conductor of the train. [319] “Brown,” he said, “declared that his object was to free the slaves. I told him there were not many there. He replied: ‘The good Book says we are all free and equal.’ ”

At the afternoon session of Friday, three additional witnesses were produced for the State, but their testimony presented no new facts; and Henry Hunter, who is described as “a very intelligent young gentleman, apparently about twenty-two years of age, the son of Andrew Hunter, Esq., who conducts the prosecution,” was examined as to the murder of Thompson.

Although, technically, the record of the evidence for the prosecution should here close, it will be seen, by the subsequent proceedings, that, in consequence of the intentional negligence of the prisoner's Virginia counsel, it was not concluded till the adjournment of the Court. The defence began on the following day. Yet, in this Friday's proceedings, one incident of the conflict at Harper's Ferry, as described by a witness first introduced by the State, is so characteristic of the spirit engendered by slavery,--so faithful a mirror of modern Southern chivalry,--that it deserves to be reported in full, and preserved as a contrast to the conduct of the Liberators.


The murder of Thompson.

Mr. Green stated to the Court that he desired to bring out testimony relative to the shooting of Thompson, one of the insurgents, on the bridge; but the State objected to it, unless Brown had a knowledge of that shooting.

Mr. Hunter said there was a deal of testimony about Brown's forbearance and not shooting citizens, that had no more to do with this case than the dead languages. If he understood the offer, it was to show that one of those men, named Thompson, a prisoner, was [320] despatched after Beckham's death. The circumstances of the deed might be such as he himself might not at all approve. He did not know how that might be, but he desired to avoid any investigation that might be used. Not that it was so designed by the respectable counsel employed in the case, but because he thought the object of the prisoner in getting at it was for out-door effect and influence. He therefore said if the defence could show that this prisoner was aware of these circumstances, and the manner in which that party was killed, and still exerted forbearance, he would not object. But unless the knowledge of it could be brought home to the prisoner and his after conduct, he could not see its relevancy.

Mr. Green, counsel for defence, contended that they had a right to infer that Brown had been made aware of it, as it was already proved that communications passed between him and the citizens several times after the killing of Thompson.

Judge Parker decided that the whole transaction of that day constituted a part of the res gestae, and might be inquired into.

Henry Hunter called,--examined by counsel for defence. Q. Did you witness the death of this man Thompson?

A. I witnessed the death of one whose name I have been informed was Thompson.

Q. The one who was a prisoner? A. Yes, sir. Q. Well, sir, what were the circumstances attending it?

A. Do you wish my own connection with it, or simply a description of the circumstances? Shall I mention the names?

Mr. Andrew Hunter. Every bit of it, Henry; state all you saw.

Witness. There was a prisoner confined in the parlor of the hotel, and after Mr. Beckham's death he was shot down by a number of us there belonging to this sharp-shooting band.

Mr. Andrew Hunter. Will you allow him to state, before proceeding further, how he was connected with Mr. Beckham?

Mr. Green. Certainly, sir.

Witness. He was my grand-uncle and my special friend — a man I loved above all others. After he was killed, Mr. Chambers and myself moved forward to the hotel for the purpose of taking the prisoner out and hanging him; we were joined by a number of other persons, who cheered us on in that work; we went up into his room, where he was bound, with the undoubted and undisguised purpose of taking his life; at the door we were stopped by persons guarding the door, who remonstrated with us, and the excitement was so great that persons who remonstrated with us at one moment would cheer us on the next; we burst into the room where he was, and found several [321] around him, but they offered only a feeble resistance; we brought our guns down to his head repeatedly,--myself and another person,--for the purpose of shooting him in the room.

There was a young lady there, the sister of Mr. Fouke, the hotel keeper, who sat in this man's lap, covered his face with her arms, and shielded him with her person whenever we brought our guns to bear; she said to us, “For God's sake, wait and let the law take its course;” my associate shouted to kill him; , “Let us shed his blood,” were his words; all round were shouting, “Mr. Beckham's life was worth ten thousand of these vile abolitionists;” I was cool about it, and deliberate; my gun was pushed up by some one who seized the barrel, and I then moved to the back part of the room, still with purpose unchanged, but with a view to divert attention from me, in order to get an opportunity, at some moment when the crowd would be less dense, to shoot him; after a moment's thought, it occurred to me that that was not the proper place to kill him; we then proposed to take him out and hang him; some portion of our band then opened a way to him, and first pushing Miss Fouke aside, we slung him out of doors; I gave him a push, and many others did the same; we then shoved him along the platform and down to the trestle work of the bridge; he begged for his life all the time, very piteously at first.

By-the-by, before we took him out of the room, I asked the question what he came here for: he said their only purpose was to free the slaves or die; then he begged, “Don't take my life — a prisoner;” but I put the gun to him, and he said, “, You may kill me, but it will be revenged; there are eighty thousand persons sworn to carry out this work;” that was his last expression; we bore him out on the bridge with the purpose then of hanging him; we had no rope, and none could be found; it was a moment of wild excitement; two of us raised our guns — which one was first I do not know — and pulled the trigger; before he had reached the ground, I suppose some five or six shots had been fired into his body; he fell on the railroad track, his back down to the earth, and his face up; we then went back for the purpose of getting another one, (Stevens;) but he was sick or wounded, and persons around him, and I persuaded them myself to let him alone; I said, “Don't let us operate on him, but go around and get some more;” we did this act with a purpose, thinking it right and justifiable under the circumstances, and fired and excited by the cowardly, savage manner in which Mr. Beckham's life had been taken.

Mr. Andrew Hunter. Is that all, gentlemen?

Mr. Botts. Yes, sir.

Mr. Andrew Hunter. (To the witness.) Stand aside. [322]

This sworn statement of a cold-blooded murder, by one of the perpetrators of it, elicited not one word of condemnation from any journal published in the Southern States.

Wm. M. Williams, the watchman, stated the particulars of his arrest and confinement in the watch house. Capt. Brown told the prisoners to hide themselves, or they would be shot by the people outside; he said he would not hurt any of them. He told Mr. Grist to tell the people to cease firing, or he would burn the town; but if they didn't molest him, he wouldn't molest them; heard two shots on the bridge about the time the express train arrived, but did not see Haywsard killed.

Capt. Brown. State what was said by myself, and not about his being shot.

Williams. I think you said that if he had taken care of himself, he would not have suffered.

Reason Cross. I prepared a proposition that Brown should retain the possession of the Armory, that he should release us, and that the firing should stop.

Capt. Brown. Were there two written propositions drawn up while you were prisoner?

Cross. Yes, there was another paper prepared by Kitzmiller and some others. I went out to stop the firing; a man went with me, and they took him prisoner and tied him; this was Thompson, who was afterwards taken out and shot; Brown's treatment of me was kind and respectful; heard him talk roughly to some men who were going in to where the blacks were confined.

Several witnesses for the defence were then called, but none of them answered to their subpoenas. They had not been returned. There was no doubt, now, that the trial would have been closed at once; for, up to this period, no earnest effort had been made, by the counsel for the defence, to compel the Court to grant a brief delay; when, unexpectedly, John Brown arose from his mattress and addressed the Judge.


John Brown's speech.

May it Please the Court-I discover that, notwithstanding all the assurances I have received of a fair trial, nothing like a fair trial [323] is to be given me, as it would seem. I gave the names, as soon as I could get them, of the persons I wished to have called as witnesses, and was assured that they would be subpoenaed. I wrote down a memorandum to that effect, saying where these parties were; but it appears that they have not been subpoenaed, so far as I can learn. And now I ask, if I am to have any thing at all deserving the name and shadow of a fair trial, that this proceeding be deferred until to-morrow morning; for I have no counsel, as I have before stated, on whom I feel that I can rely; but I am in hopes counsel may arrive who will attend to seeing that I get the witnesses who are necessary for my defence. I am myself unable to attend to it. I have given all the attention I possibly could to it, but am unable to see or know about them, and can't even find out their names; and I have nobody to do any errands, for my money was all taken from me when I was sacked and stabbed, and I have not a dime. I had two hundred and fifty or sixty dollars in gold and silver taken from my pocket, and now I have no possible means of getting any body to do my errands for me, and I have not had all the witnesses subpoenaed. They are not within reach, and are not here. I ask at least until to-morrow morning to have something done, if any thing is designed; if not, I am ready for any thing that may come up.

The old man lay down again, drew his blanket over him, closed his eyes, and appeared to sink in tranquil slumber.

This bold speech, with its modest request, (which was seconded by Mr. Hoyt, who, we are told, “arose amid great sensation,” and stated that other counsel would arrive to-night,) shamed the unfaithful Virginia advocates into an immediate resignation, and the Court into an adjournment till the following morning. But it is due to the reputation of Mr. Hunter to say, that he resolutely resisted this action.

“The town,” flashed the telegraph, “is greatly excited; the guard has been increased; the conduct of Brown is regarded as a trick.” The very appearance of decency alarmed the citizens of Charlestown!

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