Notes to Charles White's Eyewitness Account

Dr. Moore is associate professor of English at the University of Georgia. He wishes to thank Mrs. Lucilla White Whitted, of Hampden Sydney, Virginia, for permitting him to use the two letters of Charles White that appear in this article. He is also Grateful to Mrs. Margaret White Bear, of Richmond, Virginia, and Mrs. Margaret Bear Moore, of Athens, Georgia, for their help in the preparation of the article.

1. See, for instance, the accounts of the insurrection in the issues of Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper and Harper's Weekly for October 29, 1859, and issues immediately following; The life, Trial and Execution of Captain John Brown (New York, 1859); [Thomas Drew], The John Brown Invasion (Boston, 1860), Osborn P. Anderson, A Voice from Harper's Ferry (Boston, 1861); and U. S. Senate Report, 36th Congress, Ist Session, No. 278 (sometimes called the Mason Report). For a modern appraisal of the whole affair as a "symbol of the American sec- tional tragedy," see J. G. Randall, The Civil War and Reconstruction (Boston, 1937), p. 173.

2. Charles White was born in Fredericksburg, Virginia, on October 31, 1827. He attended Princeton University (1845-1848), Union Theological Seminary, Virginia (1849-l852). and married Mary Porter Felt, of Salem, Massachusetts, in 1856. He became pastor at Berryville in 1854 and retained that position until 1875. Not long after his arrival at Berryville, he agreed to serve in a similar capacity at Harpers Ferry. In 1875 he was called to preach at College Church, Hampden Sydney, Virginia, and there he remamed until his death in 1891. He was moderator of the Synod of Virginia in 1880.

3. John Brown and his small band of men approached the Maryland end of the bridge over the Potomac at some time shortly after 10:30 P.M., Sunday night. Since William Williams, the bridge watchman, was not aware of the hostile intentions of the group, he was easily taken prisoner, and Brown and his men quickly entered Harpers Ferry and captured in short order the arsenal, the armory, and the rifle works. Thus within an hour or two Brown had control of several of his most important objectives in the town. See Oswald Garrison Villard, John Brown, 1800- 1859: A Biography Fifty Years After, rev. ed. (New York, 1943)> pp. 429 ff. Villard's account of the raid is based on most of the primary source material.

4. White's text was Jude 23.

5. The reference is to Edward White (1840-1888), Charles White's younger brother. The "Island" may be located on Map B.

6. White's position may be located most easily on Map B. John H. Kagi, Secretary of War in Brown's "Provisional Government," was in charge of a group of five or six at the rifle works, and John Brown himself commanded a larger group in the armory. See Villard, John Brown, pp. 431-432.

7. The reference is to the sketch designated in this article as Map A.

8. John H. Allstadt (usually spelled with two l's) was a farmer who lived near Harpers Ferry. Along with his son John Thomas, a boy of eighteen, and six slaves, he was taken prisoner by Brown's men during the early morning hours of October 17 (Villard, John Brown, p. 432).

9. Lewis Sheridan Leary was one of three men from Brown's band assigned to guard the rifle works.

10. John A. Copeland, Jr., a nephew of Leary and also from Ohio, was captured unhurt shortly after Leary and Kagi were shot.

The next four pages (five through eight) of the letter are unfortunately lost. When Jobn Felt returned the letter in May 1899 to William C. White, Charles White's son, he remarked that he could not find the missing pages. That they contained valuable information (presumably about the capture of Brown on the morning of October 18) is clear not only from the content of this letter but also from another written by Charles White in 1883. This latter communication is discussed later in the article.

11. Aaron D. Stevens, of Massachusetts, was a captain and third in command in Brown's "Provisional Army."

12. In his speech at Beecher's church in Brooklyn on November 1, 1859, Phillips said in part:

"I said that the lesson of the hour was insurrection. I ought not to apply that word to John Brown of Osawatomie, for there was no insurrection in his case. It is a great mistake to call him an insurgent. This principle that I have endeavored so briefly to open to you, of absolute right and wrong, states what? Just this: 'Commanwealth of Virginia.' There is no such thing. Lawless brutal force is no basis of a government, in the true sense of that word.... No civil society, no government, can exist except on the basis of the willing submission of all its citizens, and by the performance of the duty of rendering equal justice between man and man.

"Whatever calls itself a government, and refuses that duty, or has not that assent, is no government. It is only a pirate ship. Virginia, the Commonwealth of Virginia! She is only a chronic insurrection. I mean exactly what I say. I am weighing my words now. She is a pirate ship, and John Brown sails the sea a Lord High Admiral of the Almighty, with his commission to sink every pirate he meets on God's ocean of the nineteenth Century.... Virginia is only another Algiers. The barbarous horde who gag each other, imprison women for teaching children to read, prohibit the Bible, sell men on the auction-block, abolish marriage, condemn half their women to prostitution, and devote themselves to the breeding of human beings for sale, is only a large and blacker Algiers.... John Brown has twice as much right to hang Governor Wise, as Governor Wise has to hang him" (Speeches, Lectures, and Letters [Boston, 1880], pp. 271-272).

13. John E. Cook served as Brown's secret agent in Harpers Ferry before the raid. He escaped during the raid but was captured later in Pennsylvania and returned to Virginia for trial.

14. Mary Porter Felt White, his wife.

15. William Chester White, his son.

16. Margaret Heussler Felt, his sister-in-law.

17. This refers to the maps he drew for John Felt. Page eleven of the letter ends here. The sketch designated in this article as Map B appears on page twelve of the letter.

18. There is no date on the copy of the letter I examined (the original cannot be located), but with the help of internal evidence its dating may be fixed with some certainty in the week of July 18-35, 1883. Since the letter was of a private nature, it did not appear in the Christian Observer.

19. This date is apparently incorrect. In 1883 the Christian Observer appeared on July fourth not the fifth, and other references in the letter are definitely related to events that took place in May, June, and July of 1883. Moreover, I have not been able to find the article to which Charles White alludes in any of the issues for the above-mentioned months.

20. Andrew Hunter was the Commonwealth's attorney for Jefferson Countv and was appointed special prosecutor by Governor Wise for the trial of John Brown.

21. Immediately after his capture it was thought by some that Brown was mortally wounded, but after a careful examination by a surgeon, it was discovered that his wounds were not so bad as had been surmised. See Villard, John Brown, pp. 453-455. On the basis of that information, one may infer that White was called in soon after the capture of Brown early in the morning of October 18 and that he may have been an anonymous participant in the famous interview of Brown by Governor Wise, of Virginia, and others that took place that same day and that later appeared in detail in the New York Herald, October 21, 1859, p. 1.

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