Monday, October 26, 2009

John Brown's Weapons


John Brown came to Harpers Ferry in part to capture firearms from the national arsenal that he hoped to eventually place in the hands of slaves.

Not many people realize though that he and his men arrived at Harpers Ferry quite well armed already. For his attack, Brown would choose several weapons to arm his men, some of which were the most advanced of the day.

In 1857 Brown had been given 200 Sharps rifles by the Massachusetts Kansas Committee. These rifles were unlike the common muzzle loaders of this era and had become quite popular with the antislavery free-staters in the Kansas wars. Some of the Sharps were given the name "Beecher's Bibles" because a number of them had been sent out to the plains under the auspices of being boxed Bibles, and had been praised by the abolitionist preacher Henry Ward Beecher for their effectiveness in combating the proslavery Missouri forces. The 52 caliber breech loading Sharps rifles were invented by Christian Sharps, were produced in Hartford, Connecticut, and were one of the most accurate and fastest firing weapons available. The rifles given to Brown had already been shipped west and were stored in Iowa. When Brown eventually settled on his plans for Harpers Ferry he had 198 of the rifles shipped back east, and in September they were sent to Chambersburg, and then to the Maryland farm where Brown and his men were preparing to make their raid.

Brown's most well recognized weapons were pikes (pictured top). These fierce spears had ten inch double-edged blades attached to six foot long ash handles, and were manufactured by Connecticut blacksmith Charles Blair. Brown had contracted with Blair while on the same fund raising tour to the East in 1857 that had earned him the Sharps rifles. Brown thought these lance-like weapons would make intimidating tools for the free state settlers in Kansas to keep Missouri border ruffians at bay. Brown signed a contract with Blair to pay him $1 per pike for 1000 pikes. Brown was unable to pay the required full amount before returning to Kansas so they remained in Connecticut until 1859.

Brown thought the pikes would fit in perfectly with his Harpers Ferry plan. He believed the pikes would be perfect to give out to men, both black and white, that responded to his call who were not familiar with handling firearms. Brown hoped the fearsome pikes would force shocked and awed slaveholders to relinquish their bondsmen and instill fear in Southern whites in general.

In June of 1859 Brown paid the final installment on the pikes. And, in September, 950 of them were shipped to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, and then on to the Kennedy Farm, just a few miles from Harpers Ferry. Few of the pikes were used in the Harpers Ferry raid, but the large shipment was discovered in the aftermath and were used for political capital by Southerners. Fiery Virginian Edmund Ruffin sent a pike to each of the governors of the Southern states with a note attached that said, "Sample of the favors designed for us by our Northern Brethren."

The other weapon Brown was supplied with was the 31 caliber Maynard pistol. These revolvers were produced by the Massachusetts Arms Company in Chicopee Falls and used a special tape-roll percussion cap that looked much like the cap rolls used by cap guns today. Unfortunately for Brown, the 200 Maynard pistols arrived at the Kennedy Farm without the proper percussion caps and were thus useless to him and his men.

Weapons that have provenance to John Brown's raid are some of the most sought after by serious collectors. Recently one of the John Brown pikes sold at auction for $13,000. Others pikes are in the museum collections at the Museum of the Confederacy, Harpers Ferry National Park, the Smithsonian, and the Kansas State Historical Society. The National Firearms Museum has one of Brown's Sharps rifles, and the Smithsonian has John Brown's personal Sharps, but not one that was at the Harper's Ferry raid.

12 comments:

  1. So, is this what was purchased with the money John Brown collected from the "Secret Six"?

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    1. Yes . . . partly. The funds provided by the Secret Six also helped pay for provisions from Brown's men and the expenses Brown accrued through his travels and renting the farm in Maryland from which he launched his raid on Harper's Ferry. Thanks for reading!

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    2. Well, I am working on a video right now about all this, if you like, I will give you the link when I'm done. It's quite a story!!

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    3. Hi Tim,
      as promised, here is the link to the video. Hope you get a moment to take a look and if so, please leave a comment. thanks.
      Excerpt: "Today's video is called "John Brown, the Secret Six, Freemasonry, the Illuminati and the Conspiracy That Precipitated the Civil War
      Now, this video will be a bit of a departure from my usual research in that it started off with a dream that I decided to research for its historical context and ended up in a very deep and interesting rabbit hole.
      To begin, I am a prolific dreamer. I dream stories. I would say that I time travel in my dreams, some may say I astral project and all of that, but I have had some dreams that have historical significance as you will see with this one.
      Without any foreknowledge of the event that occurs in my dream, I am motivated to research the names and situations that are revealed to me. I am always amazed and humbled when I find out that my dream is telling me something about a real event. However the amazing thing about this dream is that it revealed something that I knew nothing about as I was not taught it in school, even though I boast of my fine educational experience. But one thing I did learn from that experience is how to research."

      This video: https://youtu.be/TMAx1P2rgbY

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  2. Unfortunately I don't think the Smithsonian has any of John Brown's Sharps. The one they claim as used at Harper's Ferry that is on display is not even the right model. I would be interested if you post the link.

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  3. Perhaps you are correct. The Sharps that the Smithsonian displays as his personal rifle is one built specially for him and not of the same make as the ones used at Harper's Ferry. However, I will try to contact them to see if they have of the carbine models in their collections storage and not on display. Stay tuned.

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  4. You are correct. The Smithsonian answered me back and they do not have a Sharps from Harper's Ferry. I'll edit the post to reflect that. Thanks for the information!

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  5. Isaac magers 11 year oldNovember 13, 2017 at 10:05 AM

    What year where the sharps made?

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  6. Isaac magers 11 year oldNovember 13, 2017 at 10:07 AM

    Did brown really have goerge washingtons sword in the battle?

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  7. I have read accounts of Brown's raid that referred to his men having pistols. If not the Maynard pistol, what were they. If they actually did have any.

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  8. Bob - My first thought would be Colt 1851 Navy revolvers, as they were extremely popular at this time, but I'll see if I can do some research on this and get back.

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    1. Why not, since Owen Brown's Navy 6 was recently returned to the museum from which it was stolen decades ago. Catalogue notes: http://digitalcollection.chicagohistory.org/cdm/ref/collection/p16029coll3/id/2103

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