Archive for the ‘Steam at Harpers Ferry’ Category

There were a total of one hundred and ninety books/pamphlets on display at L’Exposition de Paris 1900, Exposition des Nègres d’Amérique, or the Negro Exhibit during the 1900 Paris Exhibition organized by Washington, DC attorney, Thomas Calloway with important social, political and photographic contributions by W.E.B. DuBois.

Thomas Calloway and Nellie Nolan Calloway, photo by C.M. Bell, 1890s

The assistant Librarian of Congress, Daniel Murray, wrote hundreds of letters asking people to donate literary works for the Exhibit. He and his family frequented Harpers Ferry. His wife, Anna Evans Murray, was related to one of John Brown’s men, through her mother, Henrietta Leary Evans.

Colored American, May 18, 1901

Twenty works were written by women.

Only one, Anna J. Cooper, author of a Voice from the South by a Black Woman of the South made it to Paris for the event. She was already in Europe to participate in the Pan-African Conference.

Colored American, August 25, 1900

Anna J. Cooper from Voice from the South by a Black Woman from the South, 1892

Barbara Pope, while not in attendance, had four short stories entitled “Storiettes” included in Daniel Murray’s collection.

The literary bond between several African American female authors whose works appeared at the Paris Exposition, may have been more deeply forged during the Colored Women’s League meeting at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia in July 1896. Among those in attendance was Anna J. Cooper.

National League of Colored Women, July 1896, Harpers Ferry, Harpers Ferry National Historical Park collection

On August 18, 1896, Barbara’s short story “The New Woman” was published by Waverley Illustrated, during the League’s convention. This was one of the four short stories which later became part of the Barbara’s contribution to the Negro Exhibit.

National Reflector, July 3, 1897

She and her sister, Louise, perhaps working as journalists, were coincidentally rusticating in Silcott Springs, Virginia – about 20 miles away.

Washington Bee, July 18, 1896

Ten years later, in August, 1906, Barbara Pope and W.E.B. DuBois worked together again to further the cause of the civil rights organization, the Niagara Movement, at Harper’s Ferry.

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This month, January 2023, the United States experienced something extremely rare in its history – the Speaker of the House of Representatives’ election took more than one voting session to secure. It took fifteen tries to get the current Republican Speaker of the House to get elected. There were only two similar election delays over the past 150 years – those of Rep. Fredrick Huntington Gillett in 1923 (9 rounds over 3 days) and Rep. Nathaniel Prentice Banks in 1856 (133 rounds and close to two months) – both from Massachusetts. 

According to the United States House of Representatives, History, Art & Archives website, the reason why the election took so long in Banks’ case was due to:

Sectional conflict over slavery and a rising anti-immigrant mood in the nation contributed to a poisoned and deteriorating political climate. As a sign of the factionalism then existing in the House, more than 21 individuals initially vied for the Speaker’s post when the Members first gathered in December, 1855.

In 1858, Banks ran for Governor of Massachusetts and became known for his abolitionist position. He signed a bill allowing a self-emancipated man, Anthony Burns

to remain in Massachusetts. In addition, he vetoed a Massachusetts bill that would lift restrictions on militia enrollment to only whites after John Brown and his followers’ Harpers Ferry raid in 1859. He then considered running for president, but lacked sufficient support. 

Less than three years later, President Lincoln appointed Banks Major General for the Union Army. It was in May 1862 that General Banks retreated from Front Royal, Virginia to Winchester after a battle with Confederate General Thomas Jackson. 

Hotchkiss, Jedediah, D. C Humphreys, and J.B. Lippincott & Co. Map illustrating the Shenandoah – including Winchester (excerpt) [Philadelphia, J.B. Lippincott & Co, 1880] Photograph

At that time, Marcia Blue Weaver and her husband, Fairfax Weaver, lived in Marcia’s Winchester home, paid, in part, from resources she inherited from her emancipator aunt, Sarah Opie Parker (widow of Revolutionary War soldier, Thomas Parker) and Sarah’s brother and Marcia’s likely father, Hierome Opie. Thomas Parker was the uncle of Richard Parker and great-uncle of Richard E. Parker who was the judge presiding over the John Brown trials. Therefore, Marcia Weaver was legally, if not biologically connected to the judge who sentenced John Brown to death. Sarah and Thomas’ only child, Eliza, died in 1814.

Marcia and Fairfax’s two children, Sarah Rebecca and James Weaver, also lived in Winchester. According to descendant, Lynn Lewis, Sarah married William Lovett in 1848. By 1862, they had eight young children.

The Weaver and Lovett families followed General Banks out of Winchester, along with many people of color – enslaved and free – as well as some Union supporters.

Forbes, Edwin, Artist. The first battle of Winchester–The charge on the stonewall. United States Virginia Winchester, 1862. Photograph.

According to Marcia’s great-grandson, Professor A. Mercer Daniel, in his article “The Lovetts of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia,” Federal soldiers took the family wagon and some other personal property. According to Sarah R. Herrod, Daniel’s aunt and Marcia’s granddaughter, “They followed General Banks’ retreat of the Union Army with a wagon full of belongings and when they got to Martinsburg, Union soldiers pressed the wagon into service to haul the guns and made father, grandmother and mother and eight children get out of the wagon and left us wholly unprepared to go further.” The families made their way to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania where they lived for four years, before returning to Winchester, after the Civil War. 

By 1870, the Sarah and William Lovett family had moved to Harpers Ferry from Winchester. Upon their return from Chambersburg, Marcia Blue and Fairfax remained in Winchester, along with their son, James. 

Many of Sarah and William’s children began attending Storer, a school established in Harpers Ferry for the benefit of the recently emancipated but open to all, including their son, Thomas, who, along with his wife Lavinia, would open the famous Hilltop House Hotel in 1888.

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“History never repeats itself, but the Kaleidoscopic combinations of the
pictured present often seem constructed out of
the broken fragments of antique legends.” 

From “The Gilded Age, a Tale of To-Day” by Mark Twain
and Charles Dudley Warner, American Publishing Company, 1874.

On September 6, 1901, President William McKinley was in Buffalo, New York for the Pan American Exposition as part of his re-election tour.

A man named Leon Czolgosz waited in a receiving line for the President and upon reaching the head of the line, Czolgosz shot the President twice with a revolver he had purchased four days before. 

San Francisco Call, September 07, 1901, Chronicling America
Chicago Eagle, September 14, 1901, Chronicling America

Two women became famous for their portraits of President McKinley shortly before he died. President McKinley sat for one of them, Lillian Thomas, a talented painter, born in Cleveland, Ohio and living in Washington, DC –

The San Francisco Call, March 25, 1901, Chronicling America
The Appeal, October 26, 1901, Chronicling America

and Frances Benjamin Johnston, a well-known photographer, who was at the Pan American Exposition and took photos of President McKinley within hours of his being shot. 

Frances Benjamin Johnston, 1905, Library of Congress

The Frances Benjamin Johnston’s photograph collection at the Library of Congress includes a Thomas Marceau photo of Lillian Thomas.

Lillian Thomas photo by Thomas Marceau, 1900

McKinley died on September 14, 1901 and McKinley’s Vice President, Theodore Roosevelt, became President. 

In October 1901, United States President Theodore Roosevelt invited Tuskeegee Institute President Booker T. Washington to the White House for dinner along with Philip B. Stewart.

The dinner was a significant event and applauded by many. 

The Appeal, October 26, 1901, Chronicling America

Theodore Roosevelt, like William McKinley before him, often conferred with Booker T. Washington about race, political and education topics. As president and founder of the Tuskeegee Institute, Washington was well-regarded around the country. 

Despite Washington’s accomplishments, some, particularly those from the southern United States, accused the President of degrading the office by inviting him. 

The Appeal, October 26, 1901, Chronicling America

Of those letters in support of President Roosevelt’s decision to invite Booker T. Washington, one deserves particular mention – that from Abion W. Tourgee to President Roosevelt.

Page 1 of Albion W. Tourgee to Theodore Roosevelt, Letter from Albion W. Tourgee to Theodore Roosevelt. Theodore Roosevelt Papers. Library of Congress Manuscript Division. https://www.theodorerooseveltcenter.org/Research/Digital-Library/Record?libID=o35438.

Albion Tourgee was an attorney for Homer Plessy in the tragic 1896 case, Plessy v. Ferguson which sent equal treatment under the law in the United States tumbling backwards, setting a legal precedent that was not overturned until almost 60 years later by Brown v. the Board of Education in 1954.

In Tourgee’s letter to Roosevelt, he expressed hopes for the country and praised Roosevelt for his actions. Roosevelt, on the other hand, revealed to Tourgee that he hadn’t thought much about it and extended the invitation on impulse.

Page 1 of Letter from Theodore Roosevelt to Albion W. Tourgee. Theodore Roosevelt Papers. Library of Congress Manuscript Division. https://www.theodorerooseveltcenter.org/Research/Digital-Library/Record?libID=o180529

By 1904, Roosevelt was campaigning for re-election on his own behalf. While he campaigned, another man, James Thomas Heflin, was seeking election for a position he held as a result of the death of his predecessor, U.S. Representative Charles W. Thompson, of Alabama. Heflin represented the district in which the Tuskegee Institute was located. Booker T. Washington was his constituent.

Evening Star, April 11, 1904, Chronicling America

Washington Bee, December 10, 1904, Chronicling America

Heflin was against women’s suffrage, but in favor of labor and states’s rights. He was against interracial marriage and helped draft the Alabama state constitution which included language disfranchising African Americans from the right to vote. 

While on the campaign trail, Heflin made statements suggesting that it would not have been a bad thing if Roosevelt and Washington had been blown up by someone like Czolgosz.

Evening Star, October 5, 1904, Chronicling America

Although Heflin’s comments were generally condemned, there were no repercussions for his statements and convinced officials and the public that he was making a joke. He won re-election.

Evening Star, October 18, 1904, Chronicling America

Upon Heflin’s re-election, he introduced several bills intending to harm federal elections, encourage Jim Crow cars, and bills to reduce competition in cotton futures trading. 

To that end, he introduced legislation to establish Jim Crow cars in the Maryland and the District of Columbia. He falsely claimed that many African Americans in the District of Columbia supported such a measure. 

Evening Star, April 6, 1906, Chronicling America
Bamberg Herald, May 10, 1906, Chronicling America
Washington Bee, April 7, 1906

At least three people responded to the Evening Star reports by Heflin. Those people were E.M. Hewlett, M. Grant Lucas and Barbara E. Pope, an educator and author who later became a member of the Niagara Movement and brought her own Jim Crow case in Virginia shortly before the 2nd Niagara Movement’s meeting Harper’s Ferry.

Evening Star, April 8, 1906, Chronicling America

President Roosevelt’s sentiment set forth in his letter to Tourgee, was belied by his actions in 1906, when he summarily discharged, without honor and without an opportunity to defend themselves, the entire regiment of 167 men in Brownsville, Texas. These soldiers were prevented from serving in the military and resulted in the denial of several pensions for those who had served more than 20 years.

Roosevelt’s announcement appeared to be timed to be made after the 1906 election.

Excerpt from Roosevelt’s hostility to the colored people of the United States The record of the discharge of the colored soldiers at Brownsville. n. p
. Washington
, 1906. Pdf. https://www.loc.gov/item/rbpe.24001000/

This incident, which occurred the same week as the 2nd Niagara Movement Meeting in Harper’s Ferry, WV (August 15-18, 1906) – the 1st being held in Buffalo, NY in 1905, was indicative of rising tensions in the country, increased voting rights disfranchisement for African Americans, and epidemic level lynching numbers. Despite criticism, Roosevelt did not publicly apologize for his decision.

It was not until the Nixon Administration in 1972, after decades of investigation, when Congress determined the soldiers were innocent. Nixon pardoned the solders and granted them honorable discharges, yet none of the surviving soldiers were given backpay, although some financial restitution was paid.

By 1908, Heflin was well-known for his support of the “lost cause” and spoke at related events. In April 1908, upon the pretense of defending a white woman on a DC railcar on which he was riding, he forced an African American man, Louis Lundy, from the railcar and shot at him through a railcar window, hitting him and an innocent bystander, Thomas McCreery, both of whom were injured. 

Evening Star, April 5, 1908, Chronicling America

Heflin’s family came to the aid of McCreery, the white man who was injured. Heflin’s brother, Dr. Heflin went to great lengths to assist him. Louis Lundy, the target of Heflin’s rage, received no special care.

Ultimately, Heflin was indicted, but the charges were later dismissed.

Evening Star, May 11, 1908, Chronicling America

By early 1908, Heflin’s attempt to force Jim Crow laws on the District of Columbia by amendment was defeated. 

The Spanish American, February 29, 1908, Chronicling America

Barbara Pope’s Jim Crow case was successful, although the jury awarded her only one cent in damages.

Alexandria gazette, June 05, 1907, Chronicling America

These incidents were mere bumps in Heflin’s decades long career. None of these transgressions impacted Heflin’s election prospects. When Woodrow Wilson was President, Heflin introduced legislation resulting in national recognition of Mother’s Day in 1914. He remained in the United States Congress until he was barred from participating in a U.S. Senate campaign in 1930.

African Americans continued to attend meetings in the White House, but were not invited to social events until the wife of Congressman Oscar Stanton De Priest of Chicago, Jessie Williams De Priest, was invited to a tea scheduled for June 12, 1929 by Louise Henry Hoover, President Herbert Hoover’s wife. Congressman DePriest was the first African American elected to Congress not from a southern state. When he was elected in 1928, he was the first African American elected to Congress in the twentieth century. 

Congressman Oscar DePriest, 1924, Chronicling America
Jessie Williams DePriest
Lou Henry Hoover

Mrs. Hoover was careful to ensure that the tea would be comfortable for Mrs. DePriest and the other guests. The invitation list was prepared in secret and it wasn’t until after the tea was held that the public was aware of the event.

The DePriests and The Hoovers received hostile responses because of The Tea. Many Americans remained of the belief that social interaction between those separated only by skin color, suggested that such interaction signaled social equality. 

Congressman DePriest served from 1929-1935 and departed from Washington, DC when he was not re-elected. The DePriests returned to Chicago.

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Below is an advertisement for a St. Valentine’s Ball at the United States Hotel in Harper’s Ferry on February 14, 1856. One of the event’s managers, John Avis, would be John Brown’s jailor 3 years later.

Virginia Free Press, February 14, 1856

He was also a childhood playmate of Martin Delany, of Charles Town.

Detail from “Life and public services of Martin R. Delany” by Frank Rollin,
pen name of Frances Anne Rollin (1845-1901)

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While working on the next documentary and researching the W.E.B. Du Bois papers for Niagara Movement documents, I came across a letter written by Ben W. Azikiwe to W.E.B. Du Bois on February 24, 1926. He lists his unpublished works and asks whether The Crisis publishes books.

The name “Ben Azikiwe” was familiar to me because of a photo display of Storer Graduates at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

Sure enough, the Ben Azikiwe with whom I was familiar was the same person. He is better known as Nnamdi Benjamin Azikiwe, the first President of Nigeria.

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In light of all the impeachment discussions, including the impeachment of Secretary of the Army William W. Belknap, below is an excerpt from documentary “Hidden in Plain Sight-Revealing the Concealed Harper’s Ferry Cemeteries.” Secretary Belknap was impeached 1876 with regard to federal government contracts. In 1869, Secretary Belknap approved the sale and transfer of former Federal Government land, including land for Pine Grove Cemetery and land purchased by the M.E. Church which was later designated as the Cedar Hill Cemetery. Purchasers were offered extremely loose and speculator-friendly terms, the enforcement laxity after the 1870 flood during which more than 30 members of the African American Myers-Bateman family perished, left several legitimate and speculative investors in financial straights. Repayment terms were not met for several months. It took 18 years for Harpers Ferry and the Federal Government to financially recover from 1869 land speculator sales.

Script excerpt from documentary “Hidden In Plain Sight – Revealing the Concealed Harper’s Ferry Cemeteries”

Impeached Secretary of War
William W. Belknap

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We were so excited to be an Official Selection for for the October-November 2020 Beyond the Curve International Film Festival! Despite everything, some very encouraging things happened during the second half of this year.

The Spirit of Jefferson reviewed the film in advance of it being made publicly available, which was wonderful. You can see the review here.

Thanks to all of you who have helped us get this documentary together including our interviewees Pastor Edward Hall and Bonnie Zampino.

We can’t wait to have you all see it early 2021.

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“Hidden in Plain Sight-Revealing the Concealed HF Cemeteries” soundtrack by Grammy Award winning artist and the documentary’s music director Clark Gayton.

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Steam at Harpers Ferry is pleased to announce the completion of documentary film “Hidden in Plain Sight – Revealing the Concealed Harpers Ferry Cemeteries” in collaboration with Bot Studios under the joint project Rabbit Hole History Productions. Currently, we are privately screening the film with individuals in anticipation of a wider public screening opportunity in the near future.


Two cemeteries are featured. One cemetery was set aside by the United States Armory at Harpers Ferry in 1852 at the request of the citizenry, where Union soldiers were later buried. Another holds the remains of African American residents, including an African American soldier who was a private in the United States Colored Troops. Both are investigated using public records, interviews with local residents, and other clues to explain why these cemeteries were ignored in a town so rich in history.

Here is the trailer:

Also check out the soundtrack for the film plus bonus track “3rd Avenue Bridge”!

Clark Gayton was the Music Director for the documentary film “Hidden in Plain Sight – Revealing the Concealed Harpers Ferry Cemeteries”

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Although the Gallery closed several years ago, I have continued researching and writing about the region. Pretty excited about this new direction, so as things progress, I will make an effort to update everyone here.

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