Thursday, April 22, 2010

Time Travelers: Harpers Ferry

In my Time Travelers Series, I share some of my favorite historical sites from my travels with my fellow history adventurer, my husband Erin.

Destination: Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

Harpers Ferry sits at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers, where the borders of West Virginia, Maryland and Virginia meet.

When Thomas Jefferson paid a brief visit to Harpers Ferry on his way to Philadelphia in 1783, he climbed up to an overlook above the Shenandoah and found the view so impressive that afterward he wrote, "this scene is worth a voyage across the Atlantic." The rock formation on that overlook resembles a stacked platform and has been known as Jefferson's Rock ever since. There's a picture of me at Jefferson Rock in this slideshow.

Harpers Ferry is probably best remembered as the site of John Brown's raid. Abolitionist John Brown led an armed group of 21 men in the capture of the armory on October 16, 1859. Brown attacked and captured the armory, hoping to use the captured weapons to initiate a slave uprising throughout the South. The first shot fired mortally wounded free black man Hayward Shepherd. The noise from the shot woke Dr. John Starry who went to the livery and rode to the neighboring towns alerting residents to the raid.

When he reached nearby Charles Town, they rang the church bells and aroused the citizens from their sleep. John Brown's men were quickly pinned down by local citizens and militia, and forced to take refuge in the engine house adjacent to the armory. A contingent of marines under none other than Colonel Robert E. Lee arrived by train on October 18, and after negotiation failed they stormed the engine house and captured most of the raiders, killing a few and suffering a single casualty themselves. Brown was tried for treason against the State of Virginia, ( as Harper's Ferry was still part of Virginia at that time), convicted and hanged in nearby Charles Town.

Two years later Harpers Ferry found itself right on the border between Union and Confederate forces. This strategic position along with its valuable manufacturing base made Harpers Ferry a coveted goal for both sides, and the town exchanged hands no less than eight times during the course of the war.

The actual Battle of Harpers Ferry was fought September 12–15, 1862. The Confederate army under Major General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson surrounded, bombarded, and captured the Union garrison at Harpers Ferry, gaining a major victory at relatively minor cost. The Union garrison surrendered 12,500 men. It was the largest surrender of Federal forces during the war.

In addition to its beautiful scenery and historical significance, Harpers Ferry is also a cool little town with quaint homes, cozy restaurants, art galleries and shops. Visit in the fall if you can for the crisp mountain air and the spectacular autumn color. You can stay at a nearby bed and breakfast and explore the area's plentiful recreation areas for hiking, biking and canoeing and Antietam Battlefield is a short drive away. It's also an easy day trip from Washington, DC. Check out Harpers Ferry National Park and Historic Harpers Ferry to learn more.


  1. My husband and I thought about going here one summer when we drove up the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive. After almost a week of driving, camping, and hiking, we just didn't feel like driving any more. We weren't entirely sure how much further it would be to Harpers Ferry either. Your slide show is gorgeous, as always, and makes me wish we had driven on.

  2. This sounds like a wonderful way to spend the day! I noticed the ribbon in your sidebar - are you a Hokie?

  3. Why, yes bermuda, I am a Hokie! Class of '97 and wearing my fuzzy Hokie slippers as I type this. Was it your blog I saw a VT cookbook on?

  4. I've never been to Harper's Ferry but it looks gorgeous.


I love comments! Getting feedback on my posts makes my day! Thanks for being here!