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1859: Four of John Brown’s Raiders

Thank God, the principles of the cause in which we were engaged will not die with me and my brave comrades. They will spread wider and wider and gather strength with each hour that passes. The voice of truth will echo through our land, bringing conviction to the erring and adding members to that glorious army who will follow its banner. The cause of everlasting truth and justice will go on conquering and to conquer until our broad and beautiful land shall rest beneath the banner of freedom. I had fondly hoped to live to see the principles of the Declaration of Independence fully realized. I had hoped to see the dark stain of slavery blotted from our land, and the libel of our boasted freedom erased, when we can say in truth that our beloved country is the land of the free and the home of the brave; but that can not be.

I have heard my sentence passed; my doom is sealed. But two more short days remain for me to fulfill my earthly destiny. But two brief days between me and eternity. At the expiration of these two days I shall stand upon the scaffold to take my last look of earthly scenes. But that scaffold has but little dread for me, for I honestly believe that I am innocent of any crime justifying such punishment. But by the taking of my life and the lives of my comrades. Virginia is but hastening on that glorious day, when the slave shall rejoice in his freedom. When he, too, can say. “I, too, am a man, and am groaning no more under the yoke of oppression.”

Last letter of Edwin Coppock, to his uncle Joshua Coppock

Both Green and Copeland were resident in Oberlin, Ohio — which erected this marker to honor both they and a third comrade who had not survived the Harper’s Ferry raid. Its inscription read:

These colored citizens of Oberlin, the heroic associates of the immortal John Brown, gave their lives for the slave. Et nunc servitudo etiam mortua est, laus deo [And thus slavery is finally dead, thanks be to God].

S. Green died at Charleston, Va., Dec. 16, 1859, age 23 years.
J. A. Copeland died at Charleston, Va., Dec. 16, 1859, age 25 years.
L. S. Leary died at Harper’s Ferry, Va., Oct 20, 1859, age 24 years.

Anti-slavery martyr John Brown hanged on December 2, 1859 for his daring raid on Harper’s Ferry, but it was not until two weeks later that four companions in the enterprise faced the gallows.

This sequel was a far more muted affair in comparison to “Old Brown” whose execution was immediately understood in all sections as an event of historic consequence. Yet Brown did not strike his blow by himself, and Charlestown was crowded for this subsidiary occasion, too.

The four who would quaff his same cup, all men in their twenties, cut a cross-section of the nation’s stirring abolitionist movement, mingling in their biographies the many reasons that the Slave Power had become intolerable.

  • Shields Green, an escaped slave and a friend of Frederick Douglass who described him as “not one to shrink from hardships or dangers. He was a man of few words, and his speech was singularly broken; but his courage and self-respect made him quite a dignified character.”
  • John Copeland, an Oberlin-educated free black man originally from North Carolina who had moved to Ohio, and there participated in a famous incident liberating an escaped slave from the clutches of a slave-catcher.
  • Edwin Coppoc(k) or Coppie, a white Iowa Quaker.
  • John Cook, a Connecticut blue blood “talkative, impulsive and restless, eager for adventure” who had joined Brown in the Bleeding Kansas frontier wars. He also happened to be a brother-in-law of Indiana Gov. Ashbel Willard, who incurred Virginians’ wrath (and even intemperate accusations of orchestrating the Harper’s Ferry raid) by wrangling unsuccessfully for his kinsman’s pardon.

Here’s the original coverage of the New York Herald, consuming almost an entire page of its Dec. 17, 1859 edition.

1899: Armstead Taylor and John Alfred Brown, horribly

From the Wilkes-Barre (Pa.) Times, Aug. 18, 1899:

ROCKVILLE, Md., Aug. 18 — Armstead Taylor and John Alfred Brown, negroes, were hanged here this morning for the murder of Mr. and Mrs. Rosenstein at Slidelle in March last.

The drop fell at 10:15[?]. The hanging was a horrible botch. the knot did not slip but the drop was long enough. The men writhed, groaned and uttered inarticualate [sic] sounds for nearly ten minutes.

The murders for which they were convicted and sentenced to be hanged were committed at Slidelle, a little station two miles north of Boyds, Md. on March 13 last.

Louis Rosenstein, the postmaster of the hamlet[,] lived with his aged parents in the rear of the post office. They were said to have plenty of money. Early one morning they were attacked and the man’s skull was crushed and the woman’s head pounded with some blunt instrument.

The store was ransacked and a little over $3,000, a pair of shoes and several articles were taken.

Louis Rosenstein died the day after of his injuries and Mrs. Rosenstein lingered until May when she succumbed in a hospital at Baltimore.

Taylor went to Washington and soon attracted attention by spending money in a lavish manner in Georgetown. Suspicious neighbors gave the police the information that led to his capture.

Before Taylor was arrested, however, Sergeant Fritz Bassau of the Washington police force gave up his life. Taylor shot him down as he was climbing the stairs to arrest him, where he was concealed in the house at Georgetown. He also shot Officer Gowon in the hand.

Taylor was taken back to Montgomery county, but did not stand trial for injuring the policemen. His trial was begun at Frederick on July [?] and Brown’s a week later. Both were convicted and sentenced to be hanged August 18.

Strong efforts were made to have Brown respited, it being believed by many that he was only an accessory after the fact.

The men mounted the scaffold at 10:15. They were both calm and exhibited nerve. As they were placed on the door the sheriff asked if they had anything to say. Taylor made a rambling statement in an almost inaudible voice. He appeared weak and swayed upon his feet. He said:

Gentlemen, I done both the killings myself. My Uncle Brown is not guilty. I am the guilty man, but I expect to go to heaven.

Brown refused to make any statement beyond that he had forgiven his enemies and had found salvation.

The deputies then adjusted the rope, before placing the black caps on their heads. Both men smiled and Brown said good-bye to some friends in the crowd who spoke to him.

Sheriff Thompson tok [sic] a board about six feet in length, walked over to the side of the scaffold, reached down and inserted the end of a plank in the wire ring and sprung the trap.

The bodies fell through simultaneously and began to writhe and sway in a horrible manner. Taylor seemed to be conscious and appeared to be trying to speak.

The priests pronounced it the most horrible execution they had ever seen.