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Before the Raid: Gathering at the Kennedy Farm

The Kennedy Farm
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During the summer of 1859, John Brown rented a farm in Maryland from the heirs of Booth Kennedy. A few miles outside Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia), it was a good hiding spot for Brown and his men as they prepared to launch their raid.

Throughout the summer, men surreptitiously gathered at the farm in preparation for the attack. To neighbors, everything seemed normal. John Brown was "Isaac Smith," a cattle buyer from New York. But in the attic of Kennedy farm, Brown's army was hiding, waiting for the leader to finalize his plans.

Some waited for three months. The men tried to keep occupied: they polished their rifles, played checkers, wrote letters home. Brown's son Watson wrote to his wife: "I think of you all day, and dream of you at night. I would gladly come home and stay with you always but for the cause...."

Map Annie, Brown's daughter, and Martha, his daughter-in-law, cooked for the men and tried to keep an outward appearance of normality. They found one woman who lived down the road particularly bothersome. Annie said that one day, while she and her father were out, the nosy neighbor peeked inside and saw one of the Negro recruits. "We were in constant fear that she was either a spy or would betray us. It was like standing on a powder magazine, after a slow match had been lighted."

On the evening of October 16, 1859, Brown and his men left Kennedy farm and marched toward Harpers Ferry. Marines would later search the farm, finding documents revealing Brown's Northern benefactors, "The Secret Six," fueling Southern fears of a full-scale Northern conspiracy.

    View a QuickTime VR Tour of the Kennedy Farm

    View still images of the Kennedy Farm

The Kennedy Farm was purchased by a black Hagerstown minister, Reverend Leonard W. Curlin, in 1949, and sold to a white private developer, South T. Lynn, who restored it t its 1859 appearance with the help of a historic architect from the National Park Service. It is a Maryland historic landmark.

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