Do You Know Your Local History?

[1. (Niagara Movement Photo Gallery)

Questions: 1.  For which organization is the Niagara Movement the forerunner?
                     2.  What significance does Murphy Farm hold in local history?
                     3.  Where did the Niagara Movement attendees make a pilgrimage to honor John Brown?

The Campus of Storer College in Harpers Ferry was the scene of the first US meeting of the Niagara Movement in 1906.  Why was the meeting held here?  John Brown's Raid had occurred nearby in 1859; John Brown was on the minds of many.  Also, Storer College had been established in 1867 for the purpose of teaching former slaves. For 25 years Storer College was the only educational institution above the primary level for African Americans in West Virginia. In 1911, almost all the members of the group formed The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People(NAACP), with the purpose of establishing full rights for African Americans.  

During this event John Brown's Day was held beginning at 6am.  At the time John Brown's Fort, which played a part in the 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry, was located a few miles from Murphy Farm.  Niagarites participated in a silent pilgrimage, which took them from Storer College a few miles away to John Brown's Fort to honor John Brown.  As they arrived they removed their shoes and socks, and then marched single file around the fort singing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," as well as "John Brown's Body."

Answers:  1.  National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
                   2.  location of John Brown's Fort in 1906
                   3.  from Storer College to Murphy Farm, where John Brown's Fort was located at that time

{Zion Episcopal Church Photo Gallery)

Questions:  1.  How was Zion used during the Civil War?
                     2.  Who wrote a poem that was inscribed on his friend's grave that can be found in the churchyard?
                     3.  Who was transported here to be buried after he was hung as a Confederate spy in New York?

Just a block or so from S. Washington Street at 301 E. Congress Street sits Zion Episcopal Church, a 200-year+ old church. 
 After the original structure was destroyed by fire, the existing church building opened for services December 6, 1851.  Used as both a barracks and a hospital during the Civil War, Zion was damaged by Union troops, thus causing a need for the interior to be replaced.  

Who is buried in the churchyard?  Two Revolutionary War officers,a Confederate Army officer,  eighty-five to ninety Confederate soldiers, as well as seventy members of the Washington family were laid to rest here.  Dolly Madison's sister, Lucy Todd Washington, who was married to George Steptoe Washington, resides here as well as the last owner of Mount Vernon, Colonel John A. Washington.  John Yates Beall, who was charged, convicted, and hung as a Confederate spy in New York, is buried here along with many other members of the Beall family. 

Francis Scott Key's friend, Mary Ann Morsell, lies here and her gravestone is inscribed with a portion of an original poem, entitled "In a Little While," written by Key. Mary Ann Morsell had been married to the Honorable James Sewall Morsell, a judge in the US Circuit Court of the District of Columbia.

Answers:  1.  barracks, hospital
                  2.  Francis Scott Key
                  3.  John Yates Beall

(Jefferson County Courthouse Photo Gallery)

Questions:  1. Which familiar Jefferson County landmark is located at the corner of N. George and E. Washington Streets in Charles Town, WV?

                      2. Name the infamous future assassin who attended John Brown’s hanging.

                      3. Which famous union leader was tried and acquitted of treason from his role in warfare that ensued in the 1920’s 250 miles from Charles Town in the southwestern West Virginia coal fields?

If you stroll down Washington Street almost to North George Street in the heart of Charles Town, West Virginia, you will likely pass a stately red building fronted by several white pillars.  The Jefferson County Courthouse stands in the same place as the original courthouse did when it was built in 1803.  Check your West Virginia history books to discover that trials ensued here that brought national attention!  In 1859, from Wednesday, October 26th until Monday, October 31st, John Brown was found guilty of murder, inciting slaves to rebel, and treason against the Commonwealth of Virginia.   You won’t believe who witnessed his hanging– no less than John Wilkes Booth, who only 6 ½ short years later would shoot and kill President Abraham Lincoln.  Fast forward to 1922 when another high profile treason trial resulted in union leader Bill Blizzard being acquitted of treason for his role in the Battle of Blair Mountain.  To achieve fair proceedings, they moved this trial a good 250 miles northeast from the site of actual warfare in the southwestern coal fields of West Virginia.

Answers:  1. Jefferson County Courthouse 

                   2. John Wilkes Booth

                   3. Bill Blizzard                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

(Webb-Blessing House Photo Gallery)

Questions:  1.Where is the Webb-Blessing House?
                    2. How did John Blessing make a living?
                    3. What did John Brown give to John Blessing?

If you stroll down E. North Street in Charles Town, you will come across two houses that were adjoined in the 19th century.  By the way, North Street was a major thoroughfare in the 1900's that connected Winchester and Alexandria, Virginia.  The stone house in the Photo Gallery was built by James Webb, a free black. John Blessing, who came to America from Germany at the age of seven, lived in the clapboard house with his wife, Emily Jane Grim.  By trade John Blessing was a baker and confectioner. Before he and his family moved to E. North Street, they owned the Shugart Building on the corner of Charles and Washington Streets, and John made that building both his place of business and residence.  From that site he befriended John Brown, who was awaiting trial for his activities of insurrection.  Mr. Blessing prepared meals for Mr. Brown while he was incarcerated in the Charles Town jail.  Because of John Blessing's acts of kindness toward him, John Brown gave John Blessing his Bible with an inscription from November 29th, 1859,
""To John F. Blessing, of Charlestown, Va., (Charles Town, WV) with best wishes of the undersigned, and his sincere thanks for many acts of kindness received... There is no commentary in the world so good, in order to a right understanding of this blessed book, as a honest, childlike, teachable spirit."  Note:  John Brown was hung just three days later on December 2, 1859.  

Answers:  1. E. North Street in Charles Town, WV
                  2. as a baker and confectioner
                  3. his Bible

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