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John Brown's Fort was the building built in 1848 that was originally constructed for use as a guard and fire engine house for the federal Harpers Ferry Armory in Harpers Ferry, West Virginiamarker, then a part of Virginiamarker.

An 1848 military report described the building as "An engine and guard-house 35? x , one story brick, covered with slate, and having copper gutters and down spouts…" The building achieved notoriety during John Brown's Raid on the Harpers Ferry Armory in 1859.

John Brown's Raid

Illustration of the interior of the engine house immediately before the door is broken down


John Brown planned to capture the armory and the associated arsenal and use them to supply an army of abolitionists and run-away slave guerrillas. Beginning their raid the night of October 16, Brown and his small army of 21 men (16 white and 5 black) did initially manage to capture the armory and arsenal and succeeded in taking 60 citizens of Harper's Ferry hostage. However, Brown's plan relied on local slaves joining the insurrection, and none did. The local militia and armed townspeople killed several members of the insurrection and forced Brown to take up position in the fire engine house where Brown's men had placed several of the hostages and prepared a defensive fortification. On the night of October 17, U.S. marines and then Brevet Colonel Robert E. Lee and his aide J.E.B. Stuart arrived in Harper's Ferry to put down Brown's insurrection. The next morning, using a ladder as a battering ram, the marines battered down the door and stormed the fire engine house. One marine was mortally wounded in the attack as well as several of Brown's men. Some of Brown's men managed to escape, but most were captured, including Brown who was stabbed by the marine commander, Lt. Green. The hostages were freed.

John Brown's Fort

John Brown's Fort today
Fort being relocated in 1968


After Brown's raid, the fire engine house became known as "John Brown's Fort" and attracted tourist attention. In 1891, the building was sold to a buyer who wished to use it as an attraction close to the World's Columbian Expositionmarker in Chicagomarker. The building only had 11 visitors and was dismantled and left on a vacant lot after the exhibition. In 1894, a movement was spearheaded by Washington D.C. journalist Kate Field to preserve the building and move it back to Harper's Ferry. Alexander Murphy deeded of his farm as a relocation site, and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad provided free shipping. Reconstruction of John Brown's Fort on the Murphy farm was completed by November 1895. In 1909, Storer Collegemarker in Harper's Ferry bought John Brown's Fort from Alexander Murphy for $900.00 and moved it to the college's campus. In 1960, the National Park Service acquired the building and, in 1968, moved it once more to a location close to its original site, which had been covered by a railroad embankment in 1894. The Fort is now part of the Harpers Ferry National Historical Parkmarker run by the NPS.

Alexander Murphy worked with Kate Field to bring the John Brown Fort to his farm in Harpers Ferry, WV. Alexander and Mary Murphy deeded five acres for One dollar ($1.00) for the fort to be placed on his farm from 1895 until 1910. Alexander Murphy became the owner of the fort, he also owned the gates that surrounded the fort. These gates were designed by George Washington. The Murphy Farm was established September 1, 1869, the National Park Service purchased the farm through TPL, December 31, 2002.

In 1910, Murphy allowed over one hundred prominent African-American men and woman to walk past their farm house to the back field to pay homage to John Brown where the fort had been located. WEB DuBois, Lewis Douglas, WT Greener, and others took their shoes and socks off as walking on holy ground. This day is noted as the John Brown Day written by Benjamin Quarles, Allies for Freedom.

The John Brown Museum now houses the original armory Gate and Alexander Murphy's picture. The original armory gate was donated to the NPS by Jim Kuhn, great-great grandson for no money or tax benefit; the remaining gates were donated in 1997.

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