First and foremost, I am not writing a history of the John Brown Raid as there are several sources available for that information on the internet. My focus of this article will be on the small role that South Mountain had during the aftermath of the John Brown’s Raid on Harper’s Ferry. This is the forgotten South Mountain history that I would like to begin to piece together. South Mountain, even before the John Brown Raid, led African Americans to freedom. Recently the tourism agencies of Franklin County, Pennsylvania and Washington County, Maryland have produced a documentary about the Underground Railroad, as well as a documentary on John Brown’s Raid starting at Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.
Slaves seeking freedom in the North would cross the Potomac River near Knoxville, Maryland, and seek shelter in South Mountain as they moved toward Boonsboro. South Mountain, because of the spurs and dense forested areas, provided shelter and safety. From Boonsboro, portions of the Underground Railroad led into Smithsburg, as well as in the Waynesboro, Pennsylvania area. In Rouzerville, Pennsylvania, just below Monterey Pass, is the Jacob Shockey Farm. From there slaves would continue northward using South Mountain to shield them while on their route that led to safety and freedom.
John Brown arrived near Harper’s Ferry on July 3rd, 1859 at Sandy Hook, Maryland. From there he and his sons made their temporary residence at the Kennedy Farmhouse nestled in Elk Ridge, on the road that led directly to the Potomac River. During his stay in Washington County, Brown was no stranger to Hagerstown. He had visited the town under the name of Isaac Smith.
Shortly before the raid on Harper’s Ferry, a telegraph wire near South Mountain was cut. A young Hagerstown telegraph operator Edward Aughinbaugh, received the message that the telegraph wire between Hagerstown and Frederick had gone down. Edward had to locate the problem and fix it. The line could have been damaged anywhere within a twenty-six mile radius. Edward started out to repair the line, and upon his approach to Middletown he found the problem. He repaired it, and went onward toward Frederick to get a hotel and rest before heading back to Hagerstown.
Around 9:00 pm, he checked out and began his journey back to Hagerstown. At approximately midnight he began to ascend South Mountain at Turner’s Gap. Upon reaching the summit near the Mountain House, he was stopped by a man holding a gun. The man knew Edward and ordered him into the Mountain House, where he became a prisoner with the understanding that as long as he did what was told, no harm would come to him.
Within a few minutes Edward recognized one of the men holding him hostage, it was a man by the name of John E. Cook, one of Brown’s soldiers. Cook shook hands with young Edward and told him to be a good boy and he would be released in the morning. Cook, as well as John Brown, frequented his father’s drugstore in Hagerstown. Early in the morning, Cook and the others left taking the road to Harper’s Ferry, and Edward himself, ran westward into Boonsboro.
At Boonsboro, Edward met Colonel Edward Mobley, who was the Sheriff of Washington County. The young boy explained what had happened and Colonel Mobley and two companies of militia began heading out to the Mountain House. The young boy went back to Hagerstown.
On October 16th, the time had come to execute the raid. John Brown left his son Owen Brown, Barclay Coppock, Charles Plummer Tidd, and Francis Jackson Meriam behind as a rear guard. Shortly before daybreak on the 18th of October, John Brown sent John Cook out of Harper’s Ferry, back into Maryland where he captured Terrance Burns and was to guard the farmhouse where the weapons were stored. As daybreak came, Cook heard the gunshots at Harper’s Ferry, and was relieved by the rearguard left by Brown. Cook ran back toward Harper’s Ferry, and from Maryland Heights he watched and even tried to draw Federal gunfire, with little success.
Soon the insurrection of Harper’s Ferry was over. Several of Brown’s men fled from the engine house, many who were shot and captured. Several others managed to escape, fleeing to the wilderness of South Mountain. Owen Brown, Charles Tidd, Barclay Coppock, Francis Merriam, Albert Hazelett, and Osborne P. Anderson all escaped. While making his escape, John Cook came upon four other members of the raiding party and they made their way through South Mountain together. Owen Brown, Barclay Coppock, Charles Tidd, and Osborne Anderson had joined together to make their escape into Pennsylvania using parts of the Underground Railroad. These five survivors walked for the next week only at night to ensure that they avoided any major populated areas of the mountain. These five men were now considered as fugitives.
John Cook himself, had made his way toward Chambersburg, to where his wife and child were staying. According to the Franklin Repository, Cook arrive near Quincy, Pennsylvania, when a local man by the name of Mr. Hiram Wertz saw a man walking along the road with what appeared to be a small rifle wrapped up in a blanket. Mr. Wertz asked Cook if he needed a ride and he hopped in the buggy. Once Mr. Wertz was about three miles from Quincy, Cook asked to be dropped off saying that he needed to get to the other road. Once he got out of the buggy, a revolver fell from the man’s jacket which raised suspicion. When Mr. Wertz got back to town he talked to several of friends about the incident and soon noticed Cook appearing. Cook was followed to a house where John Brown had boarded before the Harper’s Ferry Raid, but Cook escaped his follower. Franklin County Sheriff Brown and several others found the blanket wrapped around the rifle which was confiscated by the Sheriff.
Using South Mountain as shelter, Cook found himself one minute in the thicket, to standing in an open field the next. This mountain terrain would soon prove to be his downfall. Cook, claiming to be a hunter near Mont Alto Furnace, approached two men asking for provisions. Cleggett Fitzhugh, who was manager of the Mont Alto Furnace, and Daniel Logan were experienced slave catchers and knew of the reward that had been issued for Cook. They studied Cook, and even offered him provisions at the store. As they headed toward the store, Fitzhugh escorted Cook on one side and Logan was on the other. Cook, unaware of his surroundings, was taken at once by a signal given by Logan, who quickly grabbed Cook’s arm. After a very brief struggle, Cook asked “Why do you arrest me?” Logan replied “Your Captain Cook.” Cook was taken to Fitzhugh’s home and stripped of all weapons.
Cook was allowed to eat one hasty meal, and was then loaded into a buggy headed to Chambersburg. On October 26th, 1859, it was reported that Cook had been arrested. He was transferred to Charlestown, (West Virginia) where he was hung on December 16th.
Of the others that escaped, Albert Hazlett was also captured and hung on March 16th, 1860. Charles Tidd and Barclay Coppock were never caught and died during the American Civil War. Osborne Anderson served as an officer during the Civil War and eventually wrote a memoir about the John Brown Raid. After the raid, Francis Meriam headed south and eventually became a captain in the 3rd South Carolina Colored Infantry.
South Mountain played a huge role during the events that led up to the insurrection of Harper’s Ferry and the events that followed the Harper’s Ferry raid. Today, when most people hear the name John Brown, they think of the besieged men held up at a small engine house, while the role that South Mountain played in these actions have been a forgotten footnote in our American History. South Mountain was a vital mountain range that led several to freedom, and also helped to protect those who escaped from the disaster that became known as the John Brown Raid on Harper’s Ferry.