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Collection: African American Newspapers
Publication: DOUGLASS' MONTHLY
Date: November, 1859
Title: TRIAL OF JOHN BBOWN
Convicted and Sentenced to be Hung
Brown's Address to the Court
Location: ROCHESTER, N. Y., (U. S.)

CHARLESTON, Va., Oct 24.—The trial of Brown mod other Harper's Ferry conspirators commenced here today in the U.S. Court. Col. Davenport was the presiding justice, and the following magistrates were associated with him on the bench: Dr. Alexander, John J. Locke, John F. Smith, Thomas H. Willis, Geo. W. Dichelderger, Chas A. Lewis and Moses W. Burr.

The Sheriff was directed to bring in the prisoners, who was conducted from the jail under a guard of 80 armed men. The guard were also stationed around the Court The Court House was bristling with bayonets on all sides. Charles B. Harding, Esq., acted as Attorney for the County, assisted by Andrew Hunter, counsel for the commonwealth. The prisoners were brought in, Brown and Edwin Coppie, manacled together. Brown seemed haggard and weak, with eyes swollen from the effects of wounds on the head. Coppie is uninjured.— Stephens seemed less injured than Brown, but looked haggard and depressed. Both have a number of wounds on the head.

John Coptland is a bright mulatto about 25 years old, and Green, a dark negro and about 30.

Sheriff Campbell read the commitmant of the prisoners who were charged with treason and murder. Mr. Harding, Attorney for the State, asked that the Court might assign counsel for the prisoners if they had none. The Court then inquired if the prsoners bad counsel, when Brown addressed the Court as follows:

"I did not ask for any quarter at the time I was taken; I did not ask to have my life spared. The Governor of the State of Virginia tendered me his assurance that I should have a fair trial, but under no circumstances whatever will I be able to have a fair trial. If you seek my blood you can have it at any moment, without this mockery of a trial. I have had no counsel; I have not been able to advise with any one; I know nothing about the feelings of my fellow prisoners, and am utterly unable to attend in any way to my own defence. My memory don't serve me; my health is insufficient, although improving. There are mitigating circumstances that I would urge in our favor, if a fair trial is to be allowed us; but if we are to be forced, with a mere form of trial, for execution, you might spare yourselves that trouble. I am ready for my fate; I did not ask a trial; I beg for no mockery of a trial, no insult; nothing but that which conscience gives, or cowardice would drive you to practice. I ask again to be excused from the mockery of a trial; I do not even know what the special design of this examination is; I do not know what is to be the benefit of it to the commonwealth; I have now little further to ask other than that I may not be foolishly insulted only as cowardly barbarians insult those who fall into their power.

At the conclusion of Brown' remarks, the Court assigned Charles J. Faulkner and Lawson Botts as counsel for the prisoners. The first named gentleman, after a brief consultation with Brown and the others, addressed the Court, stating that he could not under any circumstances enter upon the defence of the prisoners on so short a notice. It would be but a mockery of justice.

Mr. Botts said he did not feel it to be his duty to decline the appointment of the Court. He was prepared to do his best to defend the prisoners, and he hoped the Court would assign some experienced assistant, in case Mr. Faulkner persisted in his disinclination.

Mr. Harding addressed Brown, and asked him if he was willing to accept Messrs. Faulkner and Botts as his counsel? Mr. Brown replied, I wish to say that I have sent for counsel; I did apply through the advice of some persons, whose names I do not recollect, to act as counsel for me, and I have sent for other counsel who had no possible opportunity to come; I wish for counsel, if I am to have a trial, but if I am to have nothing but the mockery of a trial, as I said, I did not care any thing about counsel; it was unnecessary to trouble any gentleman with that duty.

Mr. Harding—You are to have a fair trial.

Mr. Brown—There were certain men, I think Mr. Botts was one of them, who declined acting as counsel, but I am not positive about it; I cannot remember whether he was one, because I have heard so many names; I am a stranger here; I do not know the disposition or character of the gentlemen named; I have applied for counsel of my own, and doubtless could have them if I am not, as I said before, to be hurried to execution before they can reach me; but if that is the disposition that is to be made of me, all this trouble and expense can be saved.

Mr. Harding—The question is, do you desire the aid of Messrs. Faulkner and Botts as your counsels. Please to answer yes or no.

Mr. Brown—I cannot regard this as ah examination under any circumstances; I would prefer that they should exercise their own pleasure; I feel as if it was a matter of very little account to me; if they had designed to assist me as counsel, I should have wanted an opportunity in consult them at my leisure.

Mr. Harding—Stephens, are you willing those gentlemen should act as your counsel?

Mr. Stephens—I am willing that gentleman shall, pointing to Mr. Botts.

Mr. Harding—Do you object to Mr. Faulkner.

Mr. Stevens—No. I am willing to take both.

Mr. Harding addressed each of the other prisoners separately, and each stated his willingness to be defended by the counsel named.

The Court issued a peremptory order that the press should not publish detail testimony, as it would render the getting of a jury before the Circuit Court impossible.

Lewis Washington stated that about 1 o'clock on Sunday night he was asleep and was awoke by a noise; heard his name called; went down and was surrounded by! six men; Stephens appeared to be in command; Cook, Coppie and two negro prisoners were along, and another white man, whom he recognized as Kagie. Mr. Washington then proceeded to detail all the particulars of his taking as a prisoner, with his negroes, to the armory, and the subsequent events up to the attack of the marines and his delivery.

A.M. Kittliller gave the particulars of his being taken prisoner and locked up. He subsequently had several interviews with Brown, who always treated them with a great deal of respect and courtesy; he endeavored to ascertain from Brown what object he had in view, and he repeatedly told him his only object; was to free the Slaves, and he was willing to fight the Pro-Slavery men to accomplish that object; on one occasion during the attack, I said to Brown, this is getting hot work, and if you will allow me to interfere, I can faciltate matters; he went o^ with Stephens, with a flag of truce on Monday afternoon; he requested Stephens to remain whilst he went forward, when Stephens was fired on and fell. I recognized only Brown and Stephens; I counted only twenty-two men, early in the morning, armed with Sharpe's rifles; when Stephens was lying wounded, be remarked to me, "I have been cruelly deceived," to which I replied, "I wish I had remained at home."

Mr. Washington, re-called. —In a conversation with Gov. Wise, Brown was told he need not answer questions unless he chose. Brown replied, he had nothing to conceal; he bad no favors to ask; that he had arms enough for two thousand men, and could get enough for five thousand if they were wanted.

Armistead Ball declared the particulars of his arrest by the insurrectionists. I had an interview after his arrest with Brown; he stated that he had come for no child's play, and was prepared to carry out his designs; that his object was not to make war upon the people, and they would not be injured if they remained quiet; his object was to place United States arms in the hands of the black men, and he proposed to free all the slaves in the vicinity. Brown repeatedly said his whole object was to release the slaves; lacked him in some plan could not be arranged by the liberation of myself and the other prisoners; he said ire could only be released by furnishing able bodied slaves in the place of each; I recognized Stephens, Green and Brown; Captain Brown told the prisoners, when the charge of the Marines was about being made, that though he did not intend to injure them himself, they should equally occupy the post of danger with himself; that if they were not dear enough to their fellow-citizens to accept the terms he had proposed to secure their safety, they must be barbarians; Coppie, on the other hand, told himself and friends to get behind the engines; that he did not wish to see any of them injured; one of the insurgents, Beecham, I heard say, "have dropped him;" I did not see Capt B. fire once from the engine house; do not think he fired once; Green fired several times; the prisoners were never unreasonably exposed.

John Alstadt, one of the slave owners who was brought into the armory with his slaves, details particulars of the battering down of his door and his seizure by six armed men. [At this point Stephens appeared to be fainting, and a mattrass was procured for him, on which he lay during the balance of the examination.] Think Brown fired several times; knows he saw him with a gun, leveled; saw all the prisoners, except the yellow man, Copeland.'

Alexander Kelly detailed the particulars of the collision with the insurgents, and the exchanging of several shots; could not identify any of the prisoners.

William Johnson testified to the arrest of Copeland, the yellow man, who was attempting to escape across the river; he was armed with a spear and rifle, in the middle of the Shenandoah; he, said he had been placed in charge of Hall's rifle factory, by Capt Brown.

Andrew Kennedy was at the jail when Copeland was brought in; I questioned him; he said he had come from the Western Reserve of Ohio; that Brown came there in August and employed him at $20 per month.

Mr. Faulkner objected to the testimony, as implicating the white prisoners.

The presiding Judge said his testimony could only be received as implicating himself.

Mr. Kennedy resumed—Copeland said our object was to release the slaves of this country; that be knew of nineteen others in the party; that there were several others her did not know.

Joseph A. Brua was one of the prisoners in the engine-house, find was permitted to go out several times with a flag of truce, during the firing; Coppie fired twice, and at the second tire Brown remarked, "that man is down." Witness then asked permission to go out, and found that Mr. Beckham had just been shot, and has no doubt that Coppie shot him.

Mr. Alstadt recalled—Think that Capt Brown shot the Marine who was killed; saw him fire.

The preliminary examination being concluded, the Court remanded the prisoners for trial before the Circuit Court.

The examination to-day was merely to see whether the charges are of sufficient importance to go before the Grand Jury.

Tomorrow the jury will report the bill, and the case will be immediately called for trial.

There is an evident intention to hurry the trial through, and execute the prisoners as soon as possible, fearing attempts to rescue them.

In the case of servile insurrection, 30 days are not required between conviction and execution, us in other capital convictions.

The principal witnesses to-day gave precisely the same testimony in detail as was published in their statement in Monday's New York Herald.

CHARLESTON, Oct. 26.—Brown has made no confession, but on the contrary, says he has confidence in the goodness of God, and is confident that he will rescue him from the perils that surround him. He says he has bad rifles leveled at him, knives at his throat, and his life at as great peril as it now is, but that God has always been at his side; he knows that God is with him and fears nothing.

Alexander R, Boteler, member elect for Congress of this district, has collected from 50 to 100 letters from the citizens in the neighborhood of Brown's house, who searched it before the arrival of the Marines. The letters are in the possession of Andrew Hunter, and one who has a large number of letters obtained from Brown's house by the Marines and other parties, among which a roll of conspirators containing 47 signatures; also a receipt from Horace Greeley for letters, &., received from Brown, and an accurately traced map from Chambersburgh to Brown's house.— Copies of letters from Brown, stating that as the arrival of too many men at once would excite suspicion, they should arrive singly.

A letter from Merriam stating that of the 0,000 wanted, one was good for one-fifth. Also, a letter from J.E. Cook, stating the Maryland election was about to come off; the people will become excited, and we will get some of the candidates who will join our side.

The Circuit Court, Judge Parker presiding, met at 10 o'clock, and took a recess to await-the report of the grand jury.

Brown has consented to be defended by Messrs. Faulkner and Botts, they assuring him that they would defend him faithfully, and give him the ad-tage of every privilege the law will allow.

The Court re-assembled at 12, when the grand jury reported true bills against each of the prisoners. 1st Conspiring with the negroes to produce insurrection. 2d. For treason to the Commonwealth; and 3d, for murder.

The prisoners were brought in, but before the arrangements were made, Mr. Hunter stated that the Court ought to appoint a local counsel for the prisoners, as Mr. Faulkner, who was appointed by the County Court, considering his duty ended, had left.

Mr. Botts consulted with Brown, and at their instance Mr. Green was appointed by the Court.

Brown then spoke freely, merely asking some delay in his trial, to give him an opportunity to regain his hearing, which was impaired by the wound on his head, so that he was totally unable to hear.

Mr. Hunter said the request was rather premature. The arrangement could be made and this question could then be considered.

At the order of the Court the indictment was read, the prisoners being compelled to stand.— Each responded "Not Guilty," and desired to be tried separately.

The Court elected to try Brown first His counsel asked for delay.

Mr. Hunter opposed delay, even a single day, characterizing it as dangerous, to say nothing of the pressure upon the physical resources of the commuuity, growing out of circumstances connected with the affair, for which the prisoners are to be tried. He asked the Court not to receive the unimportant statement of the prisoners as sufficient grounds for delay; that the jailer and physicians be examined.

Mr. Harding concurred with Hunter on the ground of danger in delay, and also because Brown was the leader of the insurrectionists, and his trial ought to be proceeded with on account of the advantage thereby accruing in the trial of the others.

Mr. Green remarked that he had no opportunity of consulting with the prisoner, or preparing his defence. He thought a short de ay advisable, and Mr. Butts supported his views, as it had been promised the prisoner should have an impartial trial. He presumed Northern counsel would come and take part in the case.

The Court stated that if physical inability was shown reasonably, delay must be granted. He would request the physician who had attended Brown to testify as to his condition.

Mason thought Brown able to go on understandingly with the trial; did not think his wounds were such as to affect his mind or reason; he had always conversed freely and intelligently about his affairs; had heard him complain of debility but not of hardness of hearing.

Mr. Cooker, one of the guards at the jail, said Brown had always been ready to converse freely.

Mr. Avis, jailor, had heard Brown frequently say that his mind was confused and hearing affected.

CHARLESTOWN, Oct. 27.—Brown was brought in on a cot; he looked considerably better, the swelling having left his eyes. Mr. Bolts read a telegraph dispatch from A.H. Lewis, of Akron, Ohio, stating repeated instances of insanity in Brown's family. Botts stated that on showing the dispatch to Brown, he desired it to be stated that in his father's family there never had been any insanity at all. On his mother's side there had been repeated instances of it. He added that his first wife showed symptoms of it, which was also evident in his first and second sons by that wife.

Some portions of the despatches he knew to be true, of others he had no certain knowledge, bat nevertheless he desired his counsel to state that he does not put in the plea of insanity. He disclaimed to put in that plea and seeks no immunity of that kind. The movement to that end was made Without his approbation or knowledge even.

At the conclusion of his counsel's statement, Brown raised himself from the bed and said:—I would add, if the court will allow me, that I look upon the plea as a miserable artifice. I am perfectly unconscious of insanity, and I regret, so far as I am capable, any attempt to interfere in my behalf on that score.

Mr. Botts then asked for farther time to enable connsel to reach Charleston from Cleveland.

The storm and interruption in telegraphic operations, prevented the getting of the latter portion of the report through. The Court refused to postpone the trial, and the whole afternoon was occupied in obtaining a jury for the trial of Brown, who was brought into Court on a cot. The trial will go on this morning, and counsel from Ohio are expected for Brown.

Messrs. Hunter and Harding opposed the motion for delay and were replied to by Mr. Green.

The Court refused to grant the motion, and the jury were sworn in the usual form, and the indictment read, the prisoner being allowed to forego the usual form of standing while being arraigned, if he desired it.

Brown accordingly continued to lie prostrate on his cot while the long indictment was being read.

The indictment contained three counts:—1st Insurrection; 2d. Treason; 3d. Murder.

Mr. Harding then addressed the jury, presenting the several parts of the case, together with the laws against treason, colluding with slaves to incite iesurrection, and murder, all punishable with death. He then went into an elaborate detail of the matters he expected to prove.

Messrs. Botts and Green, on behalf of the prisoners, cautioned the jury as to their duty towards the prisoners of the Commonwealth.

The following are the names of the jurors selected yesterday:—Richard Timberlake, Joseph Meyers, Thomas Watson, Jr., Isaac Dust, John C. McClure, William Rightstine, Jacob J. Miller, Thomas Osborne, George W. Boyer, John C. Wiltshire, Geo. W. Tapp, William A. Martin.

John Copeland, a mulatto prisoner, has made a full confession. He has given the names of the parties at Oberlin, who induced him to go to Harper's Ferry, furnished money for his expenses, &.

CHARLESTOWN, Oct. 28.—Cook reached here today. Great rejoicing. He denounces Fred. Douglass as a coward, and says he promised to be at Harper's Ferry outbreak in person.

Geo. H. Hoyt of Boston, arrived here to-day as counsel for Brown.

The Court met.

Brown still keeps his bed.

Mr. Botts announced the arrival of Mr. Hoyt to assist in the defence in case his services were needed, and at the suggestion of Mr. Hunter, he was admitted as a member of the Virginia bar.— The trial proceeded.

Conductor Phelps re-called and examined—On the question proposed by defendant, as to when and by whom firing was commenced, he testified that no attack was made upon Brown until after the man Haywood was shot.

Lewis Washington was re-called—He testified in answer to questions by Mr. Botts, that negotiations for the release of toe prisoners were opened before general tiring commenced on Monday. During the conflict he heard Brown frequently give orders not to fire on unarmed citizens. Brown had a rifle in his hands when struck down by the marines.

Mr. Hunter here laid before the jury the Constitution and ordinances of the Provisional Government.

Mr. Hunter proposed to prove Brown's humanity when a prisoner; offered to identify it himself. He was ready, he said, to face the music, but Hunter preferred proving it by Sheriff Campbell, who was accordingly called and identified a large bundle of letters. Brown also acknowledged their authenticity. Hunter also presented a list of members of the convention, headed by William Charles Morris, as President, and H. Gage, Secretary; and likewise read the Giddings and Gerrit Smith letters, already published.

Armistead Ball, master mechanic of the armory, was then, examined. The substance of his testimony has been already published.

Opening for the Defence.

CHARLESTOWN, Oct 31.—The Court met at 9 o'clock. The trial proceeded. Brown looks better and is evidently improving, but nevertheless he reclined on his bed, as usual.

Mr. Griswold opened for the defence, contending that Brown could not be guilty of treason, inasmuch as he was not a citizen of Virginia, and as to the charge of levying war against the State the evidence did not sustain that. He admitted, however, that Brown came to Virginia for the purpose of running away slaves and for crime. He was amenable to the laws of Virginia while attempting to carry out that purpose. He took temporary possession of the arsenal at Harper's Ferry, and while there attempts were made to arrest him, and it was while the prisoner was resisting these attempts that blood was shed and lives taken.

Mr. Chilton followed for the defence. His line of arguments are about the same as Mr. Griswold's.

Conviction of Brown.

CHARLESTOWN, Nov. 1.—[Continuation of yesterday's proceedings,]—Mr. Hunter concluded for the prosecution.

During most of the arguments to-day, Brown lay on his back, with his eyes closed.

Mr. Chilton asked for certain instructions to the jury, but only one was granted—the jury must be satisfied that the place where the offense was committed was in the boundaries of Jefferson county.

Recess for half an hour, when the jury came in.

Brown sat up in bed while the verdict was rendered.

The jury found hi n guilty of treason, advising and conspiring with slaves to rebel, and for murder in the first degree.

Brown laid down quickly, and said nothing.— There was no demonstration of any kind. Mr. Chilton moved an arrest of judgment, on account of errors in the indictment, and errors in the verdict.

The remainder of the day was consumed in obtaining a jury in the case of Coppie, which was not completed when the Court adjourned.

Sentence of Brown—Conviction of Coppie.

CHARLESTOWN, Nov. 2.—Messrs. Russell and Sennott, from Boston, Reached here to-day.

Cook was brought before the Magistrate's Court and waived an examination.

Coppie's trial was resumed. No witnesses were called for by the defence. Mr. Harding opened for the commonwealth. Messrs. Hoyt and Griswold followed for the defendant, and Mr. Hunter closed for the prosecution.

The speeches were of marked ability.

Mr. Griswold asked for several instructions to the jury, which were all granted by the Court and the jury retired.

Brown was then brought in and the court house was immediately thronged.

The court gave its decision on a motion for arrest of judgement, overruling the objections made. In the objection that treason cannot be committed against a State, he ruled that where allegiance is due, treason; may be committed. Most of the States have passed laws against treason.— The objections as to the form of the verdict rendered, the court also regarded as insufficient.

The Clerk then asked; Mr. Brown whether he had anything to say why sentence should not be pronounced upon him.

Mr. Brown then rose, and in a clear, distinct voice, said:—I have, may it please the Court, a few word's to say. In the first place, I deny everything but what I have all along admitted, of a design on my part to free slaves; I intended, certainly to have made a clean thing of that matter, as I did lost winter, when I went into Missouri and there took slaves without the snapping of a gun on either side, moving them through the country, and finally leaving them in Canada; I designed to do the same thing again, oil a larger scale; that was all I intended. I never did intend murder, or treason, or the destruction of property, or to excite or incite slaves to rebellion, or to make insurrection. I have another objection, and that is, that it is unjust that I should suffer Such a penalty. Had I interfered, in the manner which I admit, and which I admit has been fairly proved, for I admire the truthfulness and candor of the greater portion of witnesses who have testified in this case, in behalf of the rich, the powerful, the intelligent, those called great, or in behalf of any of their friends, father, mother, brother, sister, wife, children, for any of that class, have suffered or sacrificed what I have in this interference, it would have been all right. Every man in this event would hare deemed it an act of reward, rather than of punishment. This court acknowledge, too, as I supposed the validity of the law of Glad. I see a book kissed which I supposed to be the Bible, or at least the New Testament which teaches me "that all things whatsoever I would that men should do to me, I should do even so to them." It teaches me further to remember them that are in bonds as bound with them. I endeavored to act up to that instruction. I say that I am yet too young to understand that God is any respector of persons. I believe that to have interfered as I have done, as I have always freely admitted, I have done in behalf of His despised poor, no wrong, but right. Now if it is deemed necessary "that 1 should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children, and with the blood of millions in this Slave country, whose rights are disregarded— cruel and unjust—I say let it be done.

Let me say one word further. I feel entirely satisfied with the treatment I have received on nay trial. Considering all the circumstances, it has been more generous than I expected, but I feel no consciousness of guilt, I have stated from the first what was my intentions and what was not I never had any design against the liberty of any person, or any disposition to committ treason or incite slaves to rebel or make any general insurrection. I never encouraged any man to do so, but always discouraged any idea of that kind. Let me say, also, in regard to the statements made by some of those connected with me, I fear it has been stated by some of them that I have induced them to join me; but the contrary is true. I do not say this to injure them, but as regretting their weakness, not one but joined me of his own accord, and the greater part at their own expense. The greater number of them I never saw and never had a word of conversation with them till the day they came to me, and that was for the purpose as I have stated. Now I have, done.

While Mr. Brown was speaking, perfect quiet prevailed, and when he had finished, the Judge proceeded to pronounce sentence upon him. After a few preliminary remarks, he said that no reasonable doubt could exist of the guilt of the prisoner, and sentenced him to be hung in public on Friday, the 2d day of December next.

Mr. Brown received his sentence with composure. The only demonstration was made by the clapping of the hands of one man in the crowd, who is not a resident of Jefferson county. This was promptly suppressed, and much regret expressed by the citizens at its occurrence.

The jury came in with a verdict of guilty against Coppie on all the counts of the indictment.