I had the honor of attending the Jefferson County NAACP Heritage weekend August 14 – 16, 2009, in Charles Town, West Virginia. The theme of the weekend was “Honoring John Brown Raid Descendants.” And honor us they did. Read all about it below.
Alice Keesey Mecoy – great, great, great granddaughter of John Brown
Anita Talbott – descendant of John Brown relation
Brenda Pitts – descendant of John Anthony Copeland
Judy Ashelman – descendant of Barclay & Edwin Coppoc
Peter Ashelman – descendant Barclay & Edwin Coppoc
Diana Steece – descendant of Rev. Joshua Young, minister who performed John Brown’s funeral
Gary Coppoc – descendant of Barclay & Edwin Coppoc
Gilliam Coppoc – descendant of Barclay & Edwin Coppoc
Thomas “Brad” Mayhew – descendant of John Henry Kagi
Bud Perrett – descendant of John Brown relation
I flew into Dulles airport on Thursday, August 13, 2009 and picked up my rental car. Charles Town WV is about 60 miles from Dulles, through beautiful country. Two lane roads that twist and turn up and down the mountains, with old majestic trees creating canopies overhead. What a difference from the Dallas area, no power lines, no billboards, no large skyscrapers, just trees, and birds and gently winding roads. I enjoyed the drive very much.
I was headed to the home of Lyn Widmeyer, County Commissioner and Descendants Reception Planner. She was nice enough to let me stay at her home to help reduce my traveling expenses. I knew that she would be in a meeting all afternoon, but her husband would be at the house when I arrived in the early afternoon. I was all set to drive straight to her house, when I saw a sign pointing down an even smaller two lane road that read “Harpers Ferry – 5 miles.” I could not resist the temptation and followed the signs to the National Park at Harpers Ferry. I was there! I was in Harpers Ferry!
Excitement. Anticipation. Happiness. Thrills. Goosebumps and more. I called Fred and left him a voice mail that I was in Harpers Ferry! I was THERE! Parked in the visitor lot and rode the courtesy bus down into the actual “lower town” of Harpers Ferry. I stepped off the bus and just stood there next to the bus, looking straight down the main street of Harpers Ferry and blinked the tears of joy out of my eyes. I set off walking through the town admiring all of the preserved buildings that now house shops and historical displays.
My first stop was the Information Center. They have a very interesting display on Harpers Ferry and John Brown spread through 4 rooms. I stopped at the desk and asked where I could find Ranger Roper, and was told her office was up by the parking lot in the Visitor’s Center. I had not stopped there where I arrived at the park because the bus was preparing to leave. I mentioned that I was a descendant of John Brown and the Ranger asked if I was Alice Keesey Mecoy. He knew of me from the work on the symposium and anniversary events. Still, it was kind of weird to be recognized like that.
I wandered in and out of stores, enjoying the old historical buildings and large selection of goods for sale. It was hot, 90+ and Harpers Ferry proper is without trees. I walked the upper level and then very carefully climbed down a stone staircase to the bottom street. I am very glad that Fred will be with me in October: rough streets and stairs make Harpers Ferry a bit intimidating to me. I found a number of ice cream and icees vendors on the lower level. (I even found an apartment for rent, but Fred said no, I can’t move to HF)
Further down the street I found the granite monument to Heyward Shepard, a free black man who was the first man to die during the Harpers Ferry Raid, 150 years ago. Beyond that was the John Brown Fort, sans the bell, and smaller than it was in 1859. Each time it has been moved, it has lost some of the bricks. On a small rise to my left was the monolith monument marking the actual location of the fort in 1859. The National Park Service is looking into moving the fort from the current location to the historically accurate one next year. I looked around the fort and took some pictures, but since it was a weekday, there were no actors around to bring to all to life.
I wandered back the way I had come and stopped in a neat little cafe called “The Coffee Mill” for a frozen custard (yogurt) and a welcome cool bottle of water. The proprietor, Jonnette, and her staff chatted with me while I sat in the air- conditioned, quaintly decorated cafe and enjoyed my cone. I highly recommend you stop and enjoy this cafe if you visit Harpers Ferry.
I found my way back up to the info center to retrieve my backpack and then went to the NPS bookstore. I reviewed the John Brown books available, and found that I already own most of them, but I did buy some 150 Anniversary souvenirs (always good to beat the crowd) so I would not have to worry about them selling out in October. Hot, tired, and very happy, I wandered down to the bus stop. I wish that my personal paparazzo (Fred) had been with me to take pictures, but I did take a few.
I went into the Visitor Center looking for Ranger Roper, but I had just missed her by 30 minutes. I left her my card and signed the guest book as John Brown’s ggg granddaughter. And so my first day at Harpers Ferry came to a close.
A 15 minute drive found me at the Widmeyer farmhouse. When I first contacted Lyn about attending the Descendants Weekend, I told her I was not sure I could afford to do both the weekend and the October events. She offered me room and board to help cut costs, and I am so glad that I accepted, because now I have added two new friends to my ever growing list.
After dinner, Lyn took me into Charles Town to see the historical locations that were to be featured the next night. The reception would be held in the parking lot behind the Courthouse, under a very large tent. The courthouse is still standing from 150 years ago, but has had much remodeling done both inside and out since then. The Charles Town Courthouse has the dubious distinction of being the only courthouse in America to have tried 2 separate treason cases. The Courthouse will be open during the reception on Friday with tours relating information about the trial of John Brown.
The old jail where John Brown was housed is gone and the local Post Office has been built in its place. There is an historic marker stating that this was the location of the jail that John Brown was in for 1 1/2 months.
There is a museum in the basement of the Library where they have the actual wagon that John Brown rode in from the jailhouse to the gallows. Other John Brown artifacts including 2 full length “Spikes” are also housed here.
Four blocks from the downtown area is the historic marker depicting the location of John Brown’s gallows. In 1859 all of this area was field and farm land, today the location is in the back yard of a private home. I noticed that one of the streets in the area is named Avis, for the jailer that took care of John Brown while he was locked up.
Lyn and I returned to her car and went in search of the last item on the planned tour, the “Blessing House.” This would only be open until sunset as the house has no electricity. It is located on N. East Street. I fail to see how a street can be both North and East at the same time, but I digress. John Brown’s meals were prepared at this house which is 4 blocks from the jailhouse.
We returned to Lyn’s home and this tired girl went to bed!
In the wee hours of the morning, while on my way to the bathroom, I slipped and fell down three stairs landing on my knee. At the time I just thought I had scraped my knee. Woke in the morning to a swollen knee and some pain.
Lyn and I left the house at 8:30 am – our first stop was WEPM radio station where we did the morning live local talk show with Hans P. Fogle. Lyn, or other elected officials, do the Friday morning show to talk about local politics, events, history, etc. Lyn and I talked about the upcoming descendants reception, and my relationship to John Brown. During the last 15 minutes we were joined by the local representative from the US Census Board. We discussed how important the US census is in genealogy work. Pleasant interview.
Next Lyn and I went to the office of the local newspaper, The Journal, where I did an interview with journalist Naomi Smoot. Again chatted about the upcoming reception and the other weekend events, and my connection to John Brown and what it has meant to me and my family.
I spent the afternoon shopping and resting my knee.
The Jefferson County NAACP did a wonderful job on the Reception. Music was supplied by an awesome group called “The Angel Choir.” They are a group of women from church who play celtic -inspired music featuring dulcimers. The ladies of the NAACP provided punch and light snacks. After a few short speeches by officials, the reception began. There were a total of 12 descendants present of various participants of the Raid. I wish that more descendants had attended, but those that did had a great time.
I finally got to meet Bob O’Connor and Gwen Roper, two wonderful people that I have been corresponding with for over a year. I spent all of my time at the reception chatting with folks, as I did not want to walk much on my sore knee. Other descendants went to hear the presentations at the gallows, the museum, the courthouse and the Blessing House. Everyone thought that the presentation in the courthouse was very good.
I also spent time talking about the genealogy charts that I had brought and were laid out on 3 eight-foot tables! The charts showed all the descendants that I have in my database from John Brown through today. Some families are still needing filling out, but it is the most comprehensive genealogy to date.
I was sorry to leave when the reception was over. Again the Jefferson NAACP did a wonderful job on this reception.
It’s parade day! The Jefferson NAACP sponsored the parade and it was fun. Bands, Cars, motorcycles, marchers, and drill teams all marched through town to the festivities location. Brenda Pitts, a decendent of a Raider, and I watched the parade from outside the courthouse. Lyn was marching in the parade and she joined us after she was done marching. After the parade, we went to the festivies and looked at the vendors and bought snowcones to cool us off. Fun for all.
Saturday evening I joined Lyn and her husband at a dinner party honoring the daughter of a freind who had just graduated from seminary. Great dinner with great people.
Ranger Gwen Roper invited me to join her at Mt. Zion Methodist Church Sunday morning. Wonderful service, beautiful singing, and I read the bible lesson. An enjoyable time. Wish I could have stayed around chatting with Gwen after church, but I had to leave for the airport.
All in all it was an incredible, very moving weekend. I am so happy that I decided to go. Sure wish more people had also made that decision! Here’s hoping there are many more descendants at Harpers Ferry in October!