America in the 1850s

John Brown and Harpers Ferry

Who was Lewis Washington, and why was he so important?

Forty-six-year-old Lewis Washington was a colonel in the Virginia state militia and a great-grandnephew of President George Washington. Lewis Washington had long known the importance of his family name, but it came to haunt him on the night of October 16–17, 1859. Here is how he described what happened (when questioned by a congressional investigative committee):

A map of Harpers Ferry in Virginia as drawn for a report of the 2nd Corps, Army of Northern Virginia. The federal arsenal is on the far right of the map on page 37.


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