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Witnesses and Testimony at the Trial of John Brown

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The Trial of John Brown


Charlestown, Virginia
October 25 to November 2, 1859


 


From “The Life, Trial and Execution of Captain John Brown, Known as “Old Brown of Ossawatomie,” with a Full Account of the Attempted Insurrection at Harpers Ferry”. 


New York:  Robert M.De Witt, Publisher, 1859


 


Oct. 25, 1859.


 


The Circuit Court of Jefferson County, Judge Richard Parker on the bench, assembled at two o'clock. The Grand Jury were called, and the Magistrate's Court reported the result of the examination in the case of Capt. Brown and the other prisoners. The Grand Jury retired with the witnesses for the State. At five o'clock they returned into Court and stated that they had not finished the examination of witnesses, and they were therefore discharged until ten o'clock to-morrow morning. It is rumored that Brown is desirous of making a full statement of his motives and intentions, through the press, but the Court has refused all further access to him by reporters, fearing that be may put forth something calculated to influence the public mind, and to have a bad effect upon slaves, The mother of Cook's wife was in the Court House throughout the examination.


 


Coffee says that he had a brother in the party, and that Brown had three sons in it. Also that there were two other persons, named Taylor and Hazlitt, engaged, so that, numbering Cook, five have escaped, twelve were killed, and five captured, making twenty-two in all.


 


Capt. Brown's object in refusing the aid of counsel is, that if he has counsel he will act be allowed to speak himself, and Southern counsel will not be willing to express his views.


 


The reason given for hurrying the trial, is, that the people of the whole country are kept in a state of excitement, and a large armed force is required to prevent attempts at rescue.


 


The prisoners, as brought into the Court, presented a pitiable sight --Brown and Stephens being unable to stand without assistance. Brown has three sword-stabs in his body, and one saber-cut over the heart. Stephens has three balls in his head, and had two in his breast and one in his arm. He was also cut on the forehead with a rifle bullet, which glanced off leaving a bad wound.


 


 


Oct. 26, 1859.


 


Brown has made no confession; but, on the contrary, says he has full confidence in the goodness of God, and is confident that he will rescue him from the perils that surround him. He says he has had rifles leveled at him, knives at his throat, and his life in as great peril as it now is, but that God has always been at his side. He knows God is with him, and fears nothing.


 


Alex. R. Boteler, member elect for Congress of this district, has collected from 50 to 100 letters from the citizens of the neighborhood of Brown's house, who searched it before the arrival of the marines. The letters are in the possession of Andrew Hunter, Esq., who has a large number of letters obtained from Brown's house by the marines and other parties. Among them is a roll of the conspirators, containing forty-seven signatures; an accurately traced map from Chambersburg to Brown's house; copies of letters from Brown, stating that as the arrival of too many men at once would excite suspicion, they should arrive singly; a letter from Merriam, stating that of the twenty thousand wanted, G. S. was good for one-fifth; also a letter from J. E. Cook, stating that the Maryland election was about to come off, the people will become excited, and we will get some of the candidates that will join our side.


 


The Circuit Court, Judge Parker presiding, met at 10 o'clock. The Grand Jury were called, and retired to resume the examination of witnesses. The Court took a recess awaiting the return of the Grand Jury.


 


M. Johnson, United States Marshal of Cleveland, Ohio, arrived this morning. He visited the prisoners, and identified Copland as a fugitive from justice in Ohio.


 


The excitement is unabated, and crowds of persons from the surrounding country are here. The event is regarded as proving the faithfulness of the slaves, and no fears are entertained of them; but a military guard is kept up, fearing an attempt to rescue the prisoners.


 


Consternation among the slaves is caused by the fear of being seized as Colonel Washington's were, and they firmly believe the object of the prisoners was to carry them South and sell them. Not a single slave has yet been implicated as even sympathizing with the insurrectionists. Those carried off have all been captured and returned to their masters.


 


Cannon are stationed in front of the Court House, and an armed guard is patrolling around the jail.


 


Capt. Brown has consented to allow Mr. Botts and his assistant, Mr. Green, to act as his counsel, they assuring him that they will defend him faithfully, and give him the advantage of every privilege that the law will allow.


 


Stephens declares that he does not desire to be defended by Northern counsel, preferring Southern, and that the Court should name them. There is a decided sympathy for Stephens; not only on account of his sufferings, but that he has shown none of that vindictiveness and hardihood that characterizes Brown. His regret is regarded as caused by the consequences of his folly, and the examination yesterday indicated that the other prisoners have lost their confidence in Brown, and are not disposed to follow him in his defiant course.


 


At 12 o'clock the Court reassembled.


 


The Grand Jury reported a true bill against the prisoners, and were discharged.


 


Charles B. Harding, assisted by Andrew Hunter, represents the Commonwealth; and Lawson Botts and his assistant Mr. Green, are counsel for the prisoners.


 


A true bill was read against each prisoner:


 


First: For conspiring with Negroes to produce insurrection.


Second: For treason in the Commonwealth; and,


Third: For murder.


 


The indictment was as follows:


 


Judicial Circuit of Virginia, Jefferson County, to wit.


--The Jurors of the Commonwealth of Virginia, in and for the body of the County of Jefferson, duly impaneled, and attending upon the Circuit Court of said county, upon their oaths do present that John Brown, Aaron C. Stephens, alias Aaron D. Stephens, and Edwin Coppie, white men, and Shields Green and John Copland, free Negroes, together with divers other evil-minded and traitorous persons to the Jurors unknown, not having the fear of God before their eyes, but being moved and seduced by the false and malignant counsel of other evil and traitorous persons and the instigations of the devil, did, severally, on the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth days of the month of October, in the year of our Lord eighteen hundred and fifty-nine, and on divers other days before and after that time, within the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the County of Jefferson aforesaid, and within the jurisdiction of this Court, with other confederates to the Jurors unknown, feloniously and Traitorously make rebellion and levy war against the said Commonwealth of Virginia, and to effect, carry out, and fulfill their said wicked and treasonable ends and purposes did, then and there, as a band of organized soldiers, attack, seize, and hold a certain part and place within the county and State aforesaid, and within the jurisdiction aforesaid, known and called by the name of Harper's Ferry, and then and there did forcibly capture, make prisoners of, and detain divers good and loyal citizens of said Commonwealth, to wit: Lewis W. Washington, John M. Allstadt, Archibald M. Kitzmiller, Benjamin J. Mills. John E. P. Dangerfield, Armstead Ball, John Donoho, and did then and there slay and murder, by shooting with firearms, called Sharpe's rifles, divers good and loyal citizens of said Commonwealth, to wit: Thomas Boerly, George W. Turner, Fontaine Beckham, together with Luke Quinn, a soldier of the United States, and Hayward Sheppard, a free negro, and did then and there, in manner aforesaid, wound divers other good and loyal citizens of said Commonwealth, and did then and there feloniously and traitorously establish and set up, without authority of the Legislature of the Commonwealth of Virginia, a Government, separate from, and hostile to, the existing Government of said Commonwealth; and did then and there hold and exercise divers offices under said usurped Government, to wit: the said John Brown as Commander-in-Chief of the military threes, the said Aaron C. Stephens, alias Aaron D. Stephens, as Captain; the said Edwin Coppie, as Lieutenant, and the said Shields Green and John Copland as soldiers; and did then and there require and compel obedience to said officers; and then there did hold and profess allegiance and fidelity to said usurped Government; and under color of the usurped authority aforesaid, did then and there resist forcibly and with warlike arms, the execution of the laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and with firearms did wound and maim divers other good and loyal citizens of said Commonwealth, to the Jurors unknown, when attempting, with lawful authority, to uphold and maintain said Constitution and laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and for the purpose, end, and aim of overthrowing and abolishing the Constitution and laws of said Commonwealth, and establishing in the place thereof, another and different government, and constitution and laws hostile thereto, did then and there feloniously and traitorously, and in military array Join in open battle and deadly warfare with the civil officers and soldiers in the lawful service of the said Commonwealth of Virginia. and did then and there show and discharge divers guns and pistols, charged with gunpowder and leaden bullets, against and upon divers parties of the militia and volunteers embodied and acting under the command of Colonel Robert W. Baylor, and of Colonel John Thomas Gibson, and other officers of said Commonwealth, with lawful authority to quell and subdue the said John Brown, Aaron C. Stephens, alias Aaron D. Stephens, Edwin Coppie. Shields Green, and John Copland, and other rebels and traitors assembled, organized, and acting with them, as aforesaid, to the evil example of all others in like case offending, and against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth.


 


Second Count.


--And the Jurors aforesaid, upon their oaths aforesaid, do further present that the said John Brown, Aaron C. Stephens, alias Aaron D. Stephens, Edwin Coppie, Shields Green, and John Copland, severally, on the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth days of October, in the year of our Lord eighteen hundred and fifty-nine, in the said County of Jefferson, and Commonwealth of Virginia, and within the jurisdiction of this Court, not having the fear of God before their eyes, but moved and seduced by the false and malignant counsels of others, and the instigations of the devil, did each severally, maliciously, and feloniously conspire with each other, and with a certain John E. Cook, John Kagi, Charles Tidd, and others to the jurors unknown, to induce certain slaves, to wit: -- Jim, Sam, Mason, and Catesby, the slaves, and property of Lewis W. Washington, and Henry, Levi, Ben, Jerry, Phil, George, and Bill, the slaves and property of John H. Allstadt, and other slaves to the Jurors unknown, to rebel and make insurrection against their masters and owners, and against the Government and the Constitution and laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia: and then and there did maliciously and feloniously advise said slaves, and other slaves to the Jurors unknown, to rebel and make insurrection against their masters and owners, and against the Government, the Constitution and laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia to the evil example of all others in like cases offending and against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth.


 


Third Count. --And the Jurors aforesaid, upon their oaths aforesaid, further present that the said John Brown, Aaron C. Stephens, alias Aaron D. Stephens, Edwin Coppie, Shields Green, and John Copland, severally, on the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth days of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and fifty-nine, in the county at Jefferson and the Commonwealth of Virginia aforesaid, and within the jurisdiction aforesaid, in and upon the bodies of Thomas Boerly, George W. Turner, Fontaine Beckham, Luke Quinn, white persons, and Hayward Sheppard, a free negro, in the peace of the Commonwealth then and there being, feloniously, willfully, and of their malice aforethought, did make an assault, and with firearms called Sharpe's rifles, and other deadly weapons to the Jurors unknown, then and there, charged with gunpowder and leaden bullets, did then and there feloniously, willfully, and of their malice aforethought, shoot and discharge the same against the bodies severally and respectively of the said Thomas Boerly, George W. Turner, Fontaine Beckham, Luke Quinn, and Hayward Sheppard; and that the said John Brown, Aaron C. Stephens, alias Aaron D. Stephens, Edwin Coppie, Shields Green, and John Copland, with the leaden bullets aforesaid, out of the firearms called Sharpe's rifles, aforesaid, shot and discharged as aforesaid, and with the other deadly weapons to the jurors unknown, as aforesaid, then and there feloniously, willfully, and of their malice aforethought did strike, penetrate and wound the said Thomas Boerly, George W. Turner, Fontaine Beckham, Luke Quinn, Hayward Sheppard, each severally; to wit: the said Thomas Boerly in and upon the left side; the said George W. Turner in and upon the left shoulder; the said Fontaine Beckham in and upon the right breast; the said Luke Quinn in and upon the abdomen, and the said Hayward Sheppard in and upon the back and side, giving to the said Thomas Boerly, George W. Turner, Fontaine Beckham, Luke Quinn, Hayward Sheppard, then and there with the leaden bullets, so as aforesaid shot and discharged by them, severally and respectively out of the Sharpe's rifles aforesaid. and with the other deadly weapons to the Jurors unknown, as aforesaid, each one mortal wound, of which said mortal wounds they the said Thomas Boerly, George W. Turner, Fontaine Beckham, Luke Quinn, and Hayward Sheppard each died; and so the Jurors aforesaid, upon their oaths aforesaid, do say that the said John Brown, Aaron O. Stephens, alias Aaron D. Stephens, Edwin Coppie, Shields Green, and John Copland, then and there, them the said Thomas Boerly, George W. Turner, Fontaine Beckham, Luke Quinn, and Hayward Sheppard, in the manner aforesaid, and by the means aforesaid, feloniously, willfully, and of their malice aforethought, did kill and murder, against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth.


 


Fourth Count. --And the Jurors aforesaid, upon their oaths aforesaid, further present that the said John Brown, Aaron C. Stephens, alias Aaron D. Stephens and Edwin Coppie and Shields Green, each severally on the seventeenth day of October, in the year of our Lord eighteen hundred and fifty-nine, in the County of Jefferson and Commonwealth of Virginia aforesaid, and within the jurisdiction of this Court, in and upon time bodies of certain Thomas Boerly, George W. Turner, and Fontaine Beckham, in the peace of the Commonwealth, then and there being feloniously, willfully, and of their malice aforethought, did make an assault, and with guns called Sharpe's rifles, then and there charged with gunpowder and leaden bullets, did then and there feloniously, willfully, and of their, and each of their malice aforethought, shoot and discharge the same against the bodies of the said Thomas Boerly, George W. Turner, and Fontaine Beckham and that the said John Brown, Aaron O. Stephens, alias Aaron D. Stephens, Edwin Coppie, and Shields Green, with leaden bullets aforesaid, shot out of the Sharpe's rifles aforesaid, then and there, feloniously, willfully, and of their malice aforethought, did strike, penetrate, and wound the said Thomas Boerly, George W. Turner, and Fontaine Beckham, each severally, viz.: the said Thomas Boerly in and upon the left side; the said George W. Turner, in and upon the left shoulder and breast, and the said Fontaine Beckham in and upon the right breast, giving to the said Thomas Boerly, George W. Turner, and Fontaine Beckham, then and there, with leaden bullets aforesaid, shot by them severally out of Sharpe's rifles aforesaid, each one mortal wound, of which said mortal wounds they the said Thomas Boerly, George W. Turner, and Fontaine Beckham then and there died; and that the said John Copland, then and there, feloniously, willfully, and of his malice aforethought, was present, aiding, helping, abetting, comforting and assisting the said John Brown, Aaron O. Stephens, alias Aaron D. Stephens, Edwin Coppie, and Shields Green in the felony and murder aforesaid, in manner aforesaid to commit. And so the Jurors aforesaid, upon their oaths, do say that the said John Brown, Aaron O. Stephens, alias Aaron D. Stephens, Edwin Coppie, Shields Green, and John Copland, then and there them, the said Thomas Boerly, George W. Turner, and Fontaine Beckham, in the manner aforesaid and by the means aforesaid, feloniously, willfully, and of their and each of their malice aforethought, did kill, and murder against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth of Virginia.


 


Lewis W. Washington, John H. Allstadt, John E. P. Dangerfield, Alexander Kelly, Emanuel Spangler, Armstead M. Ball, Joseph A. Brua, William Johnson, Lewis P. Starry, Archibald H. Kitzmiller, were sworn in open Court this 26th day of October, 1859, to give evidence to the Grand Jury upon this bill of indictment.


 


Teste: Robert T. Brown, Clerk.


A true copy of said indictment.


Teste: Robert T. Brown,



Clerk of the Circuit Court of Jefferson County, in the State of Virginia. Which bill of indictment the Grand Jury returned this 26th day of October.


A true bill. Thomas Rutherford, Foreman.

 


 


October, 26, 1859.


 


The prisoners were brought into court, accompanied by a body of armed men. They passed through the streets, and entered the Court House without the slightest demonstration on the part of the people.


 


Brown looked something better, and his eye was not so much swollen. Stevens had to be supported, and reclined on a mattress on the floor of the court-room, evidently unable to sit. He has the appearance of a dying man, breathing with great difficulty.


 


Before the reading of the arraignment, Mr. Hunter called the attention of the Court to the necessity of appointing additional counsel for the prisoners, stating that one of the counsel (Faulkner) appointed by the County Court, considering his duty in that capacity as having ended, had left. The prisoners, therefore, had no other counsel than Mr. Botts. If the Court was about to assign them other counsel, it might be proper to do so now.


 


The Court stated that it would assign them any members of the bar they might select.


 


After consulting Capt. Brown, Mr. Botts said that the prisoner retained him, and desired to have Mr. Green, his assistant, to assist him. If the Court would accede to that arrangement, it would be very agreeable to him personally.


 


The Court requested Mr. Green to act as counsel for the prisoner, and he consented to do so.


 


Capt. Brown then rose and said: I do not intend to detain the Court, but barely wish to say, as I have been promised a fair trial, that I am not now in circumstances that enable me to attend a trial, owing to the state of my health. I have a severe would in the back, or rather in one kidney, which enfeebles me very much. But I am doing well, and I only ask for a very short delay of my trial, and I think I may get able to listen to it; and I merely ask this, that, as the saying is, "the devil may have his dues," no more. I wish to say, further, that my hearing is impaired, and rendered indistinct, in consequence of wounds I have about my head. I cannot hear distinctly at all; I could not hear what the Court has said this morning. I would be glad to hear what it said on my trial, and am now doing better than I could expect to be under the circumstances. A very short delay would be all I would ask. I do not presume to ask more than a very short delay, so that I may in some degree recover, and be able at least to listen to my trial, and hear what questions are asked of the citizens, and what their answers are. If that could be allowed me, I should be very much obliged.


Mr. Hunter said that the request was rather premature. The arraignment should be made, and this question could then be considered.


 


The Court ordered the indictment to be read, so that the prisoners could plead guilty or not guilty, and would then consider Mr. Brown's request.


 


The prisoners were compelled to stand during the arraignment, but it was with difficulty, Stevens being held upright by two bailiffs.


 


The reading of the indictment occupied about twenty minutes; each of the prisoners responded to the question, "Not Guilty," and desired to be tried separately.


 


Mr. Hunter -- The State elects to try John Brown first.


 


Mr. Botts -- I am instructed by Brown to say that he is mentally and physically unable to proceed with his trial at this time. He has heard today that counsel of his own choice will be here, whom he will, of course, prefer. He only asks for a delay of two or three days. It seems to me but a reasonable request, and I hope the Court will grant it.


 


Mr. Hunter said he did not think it the duty of the prosecutor for the Commonwealth or for one occupying the position, to oppose anything that justice required, nor to object to anything that involved a simple consideration of humanity, where it could be properly allowed; yet, in regard to this proposition to delay the trial of John Brown two or three days, they deemed it their duty that the Court, before determining matters, should be put in possession of facts and circumstances, judicially, that they were aware of in the line of their duties as prosecutors. His own opinion was, that it was not proper to delay the trial of this prisoner a single day, and that there was no necessity for it. He alluded in general terms to the condition of things that surrounded them. They were such as to render it dangerous to delay, to say nothing of their exceeding pressure upon the physical resources of the community, growing out of circumstances connected with affairs for which the prisoners were to be tried. He said our laws in making provisions for allowing, in the discretion of the Court, briefer time than usual in cases of conviction, for such offenders, between the condemnation and execution, evidently indicates, indirectly, the necessity of acting promptly and decisively, though always justly, in proceedings of this kind. In reference to Brown's physical condition, he asked the Court not to receive the unimportant statements of the prisoner as sufficient ground for delay, but that the Jailer and physician be examined. As to expecting counsel from abroad, he said that no impediment had been thrown in the way of the prisoners' procuring such counsel as they desired. but, on the contrary, every facility had been afforded, able and intelligent counsel had been assigned them here, and he apprehended that there was little redskin to expect the attendance of those gentlemen from the North who had been written for. There was also a public duty resting upon them to avoid, as far as possible, within the forms of law, and with reference to the great and never-to-be-lost-sight-of giving a fair and impartial trial to the prisoners, the introduction of anything likely to weaken our present position, and give strength to our enemies abroad, whether it issues from the Jury in time, or whether it comes from the months of the prisoners or any other source. It was their position that had been imperiled and jeopardized, as they supposed by enemies.


 


Mr. Harding concurred in the objection of Mr. Hunter, on the ground of danger in delay, and also because Brown was the leader of the insurrection, and his trial ought to be proceeded with on account of the advantage thereby accruing to the trial of the others.


 


Mr. Green remarked that he had had no opportunity of consulting with the prisoner, or preparing a defense. The letters for Northern counsel had been sent off, but not sufficient time has been afforded to receive answers. Under the circumstances, he thought a short delay desirable.


 


Mr. Botts added that at present the excitement was so great as perhaps to deter Northern counsel from coming out; but now that it had been promised that the prisoners should have a fair and impartial trial, he presumed that they would come and take part in the case.


 


The Court stated that if physical inability were shown, a reasonable delay must be granted. As to the expectation of other counsel, that did not constitute a sufficient cause for delay, as there was no certainty about their coming. Under the circumstances in which the prisoners were situated, it was rational that they should seek delay. The brief period remaining before the close of the term of the Court, rendered it necessary to proceed as expeditiously as practicable, and to be cautious about granting delays. He would request the physician who had attended Brown to testify to as his condition.


 


Dr. Mason thought Brown was able to go on understandingly with the trial. He did not think his wounds were such as to affect his mind of recollection. He had always conversed freely and intelligibly about this affair. He had heard him complain of debility, but not of hardness of hearing.


 


Mr. Cockerel, one of the guards of the jail, said that Brown had always been ready to converse freely.


 


The Court refused to postpone the trial and the whole afternoon was occupied in obtaining a jury for the trial of Brown, who was brought into court on a cot.


 


Afternoon Session, 2 o'clock.


 


The jailer was ordered to bring Brown into court. He found him in bed, from which he declared himself unable to rise. He was accordingly brought into court on a cot, which was set down within the bar. The prisoner laid most of the time with his eyes closed, and the counterpane drawn up close to his chin. The jury were then called and sworn. The jurors were questioned as to having formed or expressed any opinion that would prevent their deciding the case impartially on the merits of the testimony. The Court excluded those who were present at Harper's Ferry during the insurrection and saw the prisoners perpetrating the act for which they are about to be tried. They were all from distant parts of the country, mostly farmers --some of them owning a few slaves, and others none. The examination was continued until 24 were decided by the Court and counsel to be competent jurors. Out of these 24, the counsel for the prisoner had a right to strike off eight, and then twelve are drawn by ballot out of the remaining sixteen. The following were the questions put to the jurors:


 


- Were you at Harper's Ferry on Monday or Tuesday?


- How long did you remain there?


- Did you witness any of the proceedings for which this party is to be tried?


- Did you form or express any opinion from what you saw there with regard to the guilt of innocence of these people?


- Would that opinion disqualify you from giving these men a fair trial?


- Did you hear any of the evidence in this case before the Examining Court?


- What was your opinion based on?


- Was it a decided one, or was it one which worm yield to evidence, if the evidence was different from what you supposed?


- Are you sure that yon can try this case impartially from the evidence alone, without reference to anything you have heard or seen of this transaction?


- Have you any conscientious scruples against convicting a party of an offense to which the law assigns the punishment of death, merely because that is the penalty assigned?


 


The following were finally fixed upon as the twelve Jurors.


 


Richard Timberlake,


Joseph Myers,


Thomas Watson, jr,


Isaac Dust,


John C. McClure,


William Rightsdale,


Jacob J. Miller,


Thomas Osborne,