Radical Abolitionists in Williamsburg

I knew that Williamsburg was a center of the Abolitionist movement before the Civil War, but I have just recently discovered that some local abolitionists did not want to wait for the end of slavery to occur, but wanted to take matters into their own hands. They joined with John Brown who wanted to arm the slaves and start a slave insurrection. In 1859 John Brown tried unsuccessfully to raid the Federal Arsenal at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia in order to seize the weapons there for the rebellion. Brown and his fellow insurrectionists were captured and hanged. Apparently a number of Brown’s fellow travelers were from the Eastern District. Like Brown they were captured and hanged. When their bodies returned to the area they were waked at Kendrick’s Funeral Home on Grand Street.
There was a famous song written “John Brown’s Body lies a smoldering in the grave, whose words were rewritten as “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” The real John Brown’s Body was sent back to upstate New York after its hanging, but it lay in state at the home of Abolitionist John Milton Stearns on 329 Bedford Avenue. The rope marks from the hanging were still visible on the corpse. Hundreds of area residents came to pay their respects to the fiery abolitionist.
In a 1914 article in the Daily Eagle Theodore Cocheu, a Civl War veteran,a williamsburg resident since the 1840’s, explained about the patriotic fever that swept the area after Fort Sumpter’s attack. Houses were decked with flags and the Stars and Stripes flew from the Steeples of many of the area churches, which often hosted meetings encouraging the fight to end slavery.

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