Charlestown, Va, 2nd, December, 1859
“I John Brown am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty, land: will never be purged away; but with Blood. I had as I now think: vainly flattered myself that without very much bloodshed; it might be done.”
One Hundred Fifty years ago today, John Brown, my Great, great, great Grandfather was hanged by the State of Virginia for the crimes of first-degree murder, inciting an insurrection among Virginia slaves and Treason against the Commonwealth of Virginia.
|The Hanging of John Brown. Drawing held in the archives of the Virginia Military Institute.|
Excerpt from letter written by John T. L. Preston, a founder of the Virginia Military Institute, to his wife following the execution of John Brown:
“He was now all ready. The sheriff asked him if he should give him a private signal before the fatal moment. He replied in a voice that seemed to me unnaturally natural, so composed was its tone, and so distinct its articulation, that “it did not matter to him, if only they would not keep him too long waiting.” He was kept waiting, however. The troops that had formed his escort had to be put into their position, and while this was going on, he stood for some ten or fifteen minutes blindfold, the rope around his neck, and his feet on the treacherous platform, expecting instantly the fatal act. But he stood for this comparatively long time upright as a soldier in position, and motionless.
I was close to him, and watched him narrowly, to see if I could perceive any signs of shrinking or trembling in his person, but there was none. Once I thought I saw his knees tremble, but it was only the wind blowing his loose trousers. His firmness was subjected to still further trial by hearing Colonel Smith announce to the sheriff, “We are all ready, Mr. Campbell.” The sheriff did not hear, or did not comprehend; and in a louder tone the same announcement was made. But the culprit still stood ready until the sheriff, descending the flight of steps, with a well-directed blow of a sharp hatchet, severed the rope that held up the trap door, which instantly sank beneath him, and he fell about three feet; and the man of strong and bloody hand, of fierce passions, of iron will, of wonderful vicissitudes, the terrible partisan of Kansas, the capturer of the United States Arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, the would-be Catiline of the South, the demi-god of the abolitionists, the man execrated and lauded, damned and prayed for, the man who in his motives, his means, his plans, and his successes, must ever be a wonder, a puzzle, and a mystery—John Brown—was hanging between heaven and earth.
There was profound stillness during the time his struggles continued, growing feebler and feebler at each abortive attempt to breathe. He knees were scarcely bent, his arms were drawn up to a right angle at the elbow, with the hands clenched; but there was no writhing of the body, no violent heaving of the chest. At each feebler effort at respiration his arms sank lower, and his legs hung more relaxed, until at last, straight and lank he dangled, swayed to and fro by the wind.”
A Tribute to John Brown by David Rovics