01 May 2009

John Brown House, Chambersburg, Pennsylvania

Kent Courtney and tour group in a bedroom in John Brown House
Photograph courtesy Randolph Harris

Kent Courtney examines early print of Thaddeus Stevens in Ritner Parlor
Photograph courtesy Randolph Harris

Kent Courtney in the girl's room of John Brown House
Photograph courtesy Randolph Harris

Exterior View of John Brown House, Chambersburg, PA
Mary Ritner Boardinghouse, 224 East King Street
Photo by Kent Courtney

From the Pennsylvania Humanities Council Brochure:

The John Brown House

Largely unnoticed on a side street in the quiet town of Chambersburg is a small house that played a critical role in the history of our nation. In 1859 it was a boardinghouse owned by the widow, Mary Ritner, whose late husband had been sympathetic to the abolitionist cause and who, it was said, had been a conductor on the Underground Railroad.

That may have been what drew John Brown and several of his accomplices to stay at the house when he was looking for a secure site from which to plan his raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry.

Uncertain Ground for Abolitionists

Chambersburg, which lies only eleven miles north of the Mason-Dixon line, was uncertain ground for those with abolitionist sentiments. In the summer of 1859, there appeared in the streets an old gentleman sporting a white beard and driving a canvas-covered wagon.

He was known to the townspeople as Isaac Smith. John Brown (alias Isaac Smith), and his Secretary of War, John Henri Kagi, were able to travel about freely moving stocks of weapons through Franklin County to the Kennedy Farmhouse that John Brown rented four miles north of Harpers Ferry.

Price on John Brown's Head

A wanted murderer in Kansas for hacking pro-slavery sympathizers to death, John Brown had vowed to consecrate his life to the destruction of slavery. The Ritner boardinghouse provided the link between the beginning of his war against slavery in Kansas and the end of it in Harpers Ferry.

Frederick Douglass

In the middle of August, 1859, John Brown summoned Frederick Douglass to Chambersburg where they met at a local quarry for two days. Douglass wrote, "Brown was always well armed and regarded strangers with suspicioun." Brown spoke of his plans, and asked Douglass for his help. But, Douglass refused calling it "sheer madness", and "treason", and said that slavery must be abolished in other ways.

1 comment:

  1. Actually, Chambersburg lies about 15 miles north of the Mason-Dixon line. I'll be changing that on our web site and you probably should as well and it wouldn't hurt to give us some credit as you will find some of that on our CD and some on http://johnbrownhouse.tripod.com/1d6.html

    Bob Windemuth, Franklin County Historical Society - Kittochtinny.