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Photographer's Note

The third in a series of images from places I have not posted from yet in an attempt to fill out my TE map as much as possible.

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia is one of the United States' most storied small cities. The site of one of the most important single days in the country's history - John Brown's raid on the town which helped bring about the American Civil War - it was also an important weapons depot, a transportation hub, the site of several different Civil war battles, and a place visited by luminaries throughout US History from George Washington to famed African American author W.E.B. DuBois.

Today, Harpers Ferry is an active but small town sitting at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers. It is the easternmost town in West Virginia; across the Potomac from it lies the state of Virginia, and across the Shenandoah lies Maryland. Surrounded by high hills, this location has made it a strategic point for both military action and trade. One of the first industrial arsenals in the United States was located in Harpers Ferry after the town had been surveyed by none other than George Washington himself.

This arsenal is what caused John Brown and his men to descend upon the town in October of 1859. Brown was a radical abolitionist who sought the end of American slavery and saw himself as an agent of God sent to bring that event about. His plan, both simple and unbelievable, was to lead a small group of men to take over the arsenal at Harpers Ferry, distribute weapons to nearby slaves, and begin a slave revolt which would sweep through the South and bring war - an incredible idea, but one which makes more sense when viewed through the lens of the abolitionist movement and the heightened political climate of the 1850s in the United States. Noble as his goal of ending slavery may have been, it was also impossible to truly accomplish; no less a figure than the great abolitionist writer and orator Frederick Douglass warned Brown that he was headed into "a perfect steel trap". Brown went along with the plan nevertheless, and many historians believe he never intended the raid to succeed, but instead wanted to make a public statement.

In that, he succeeded. The raid was defeated, and Brown himself was put on trial. His impassioned defense galvanized people in the North, who came to support him fully; it had the opposite reaction in the South, where people viewed him as a monster and terrorist and feared more like him. After the raid, the South began arming for war; the Civil War would break out less than two years later.

Harpers Ferry is still an active town, but the southern half of it is now operated by the US National Parks Service as a museum to the history of the town and to Brown's raid. It's one of the best National Parks sites I've ever visited, and well worth the hour plus drive from Washington DC, should you find yourself in the area.

Sorry for the long note - Brown is a historical passion of mine, and I torture my students with stories far longer than this each school year! Unfortunately, my only visit to this spot with a camera was on a cloudy and rainy day, but there are some other wonderful shots of the town as well as the Shenandoah and Potomac valleys on TE from previous posters.

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Additional Photos by Andrew Lipsett (ACL1978) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 884 W: 75 N: 1695] (7511)
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