Saturday, November 23, 2013

John Brown's Iowa boys

One thing leads to another, and after finishing Lowell J. Soike's Necessary Courage: Iowa's Underground Railroad in the Struggle against Slavery on Friday, I wanted to know more about the four young Iowans, all in their 20s, who accompanied abolitionist John Brown on his ill-fated raid at Harpers Ferry, (West) Virginia. It's a great book, by the way.

Their names were Jeremiah Goldsmith Anderson, brothers Barclay and Edwin Coppock (also spelled Coppoc) and Stewart Taylor. Anderson and Taylor were killed during the raid; Edwin Coppock was captured and hanged; and Barclay escaped, only to die two years later while serving the Union cause during the Civil War.

Most who know something about Iowa history are aware of John Brown's extensive links to Iowa, including the fact several of his men trained during the winter of 1857-1858 at the Cedar County Quaker village of Springdale. And that during late February and early March of 1859, Brown, 12 slaves escaping from Missouri and 10 Brown followers spent two weeks there during a last trip across Iowa.

The raid at Harpers Ferry commenced on Sunday night, Oct 16, 1859, and ended harshly on Monday, the 17th. John Brown was captured, tried in Charlestown, (West) Virginia, and hanged on Dec. 2, becoming instantly the greatest of abolitionist martyrs. His body was released to his wife, Mary, and transported to the Brown home at North Elba, New York, where in arrived on Dec. 7, funeral services were held and burial occurred. But what of the others? Ten of Brown's men died, five were captured immediately and two more, captured later. All of those captured were tried and hanged.


Jeremiah Goldsmith Anderson was a native of Putnam County, Indiana, born April 17, 1833, youngest in the strongly abolitionist family of John and Anna (Westfall) Anderson. He removed during the 1840s with his family to Des Moines County, Iowa, where John Anderson died on May 8, 1847. When the 1850 census was taken, Jeremiah, age 17, was living with his widowed mother and siblings near Yellow Springs, occupation given as farmer.

Soon thereafter, Jeremiah made his way to Galesburg, Illinois, where he graduated from Knox Academy during 1852. For the next few years he reportedly worked as a peddler, farmer and sawmill operator before moving in 1856 to the Little Osage River in Bourbon County, Kansas, joining free-state partisans and becaming a trusted lieutenant to free-state guerrilla chief James Montgomery. Reportedly imprisoned twice, he accompanied John Brown on his Dec. 20, 1858, raid into Missouri to liberate the enslaved Daniels family and their friends, 12 people in all.

At Harper's Ferry, Anderson remained at Brown's side until he was bayoneted by a U.S. Marine. Dragged outside, his body was abused by bystanders until he died. He was 26.

After the battle, Anderson's body and those of seven others slain were jammed into two packing boxes and buried in an unmarked location along the Shenandoah River shoreline about a half mile from Harper's Ferry. Forty years later, on July 29, 1899, the crates containing the bodies were disinterred. The bones subsequently were placed in a single casket and taken to the John Brown farm at North Elba and buried next to the remains of the old abolitionist and his son, Watson.


Edwin Coppock and his younger brother, Barclay, were sons of a Columbiana County, Ohio, Quaker couple, Samuel and Ann (Lynch) Coppock. Edwin was born June 30, 1835, near the village of Winona. Only 6 when his father died on Nov. 8, 1841, Edwin reportedly spent at least parts of the next eight years with the family of John Butler, an abolitionist active in Ohio's Underground Railroad, who influenced him profoundly. His mother, too, was an abolitionist.

Ca. 1849, the widowed Ann brought her family west to Cedar County, Iowa, then returned to Ohio during 1856 to marry Joseph Raley and the family then settled near the Quaker community of Springdale.

The Coppock boys were first exposed to John Brown and his men during the winter of 1857-58, when several of the Brown men trained for three months in and near Springdale while Brown traveled elsewhere rounding up support. They were present, too, when Brown made his final visit during 1859 and  signed on for the Harper's Ferry raid.

Edwin was among those captured on Oct. 17 and it had been he who fired the shot that killed Harper's Ferry Mayor Fontaine Beckham. Transported to Charlestown, (West) Virginia, he was tried for treason  and sentenced to death. The hanging occurred on Dec. 16, 1859, after Edwin and co-conspirator John Cook had ridden, seated atop their coffins, in a wagon to the place of execution. He was 24.

Edwin's body was claimed by his uncle, Josiah Coppock, who had traveled from Ohio to witness the execution, and transported to his home in Winona, Ohio, where funeral services were held on Dec. 18. Burial followed in the Winona burial ground.

There was a good deal of unease, however, as rumors spread that pro-slavery activists were planning to snatch and desecrate the body. Armed guards were posted at the cemetery and on Dec. 30, Edwin's remains were disinterred, placed in a cast iron coffin and taken to nearby Salem for reburial in Hope Cemetery. The new grave was deeper than the original, the coffin and its protective box were topped by boulders and other precautions were taken to ensure that the remains would not be disturbed.


Stewart Taylor, born Oct. 29, 1836, in Uxbridge, Canada, arrived in Iowa during 1853, settling at West Liberty, where he worked as a wheelwright. There, he was befriended during 1856 by George B. Gill, also of West Liberty but a veteran of anti-slavery activism in Kansas. 

The two men traveled together to Springdale during March of 1858 and volunteered to join Brown's militia. Although Gill had the good sense to remain in Iowa when the others headed for Harpers Ferry more than a year later, Taylor stuck with the old abolitionist to the end. The most frequently told tale regarding Taylor is that he was a spiritualist who foresaw his own death at Harper's Ferry, but felt that he could not abandon his mentor.

Taylor was fatally wounded during the raid and reportedly lived for three hours thereafter, begging his comrades to end his misery. He was 23. As was the case with seven others, his remains were gathered up after the raid, jammed into a packing crate and buried along the banks of the Shenandoah. During 1899, 40 years later, the bodies were disinterred, bones placed in a single casket and they eight were buried together adjacent to John Brown and his son, Watson, at North Elba, New York.


Barclay Coppock, born Jan. 4, 1839, in Columbiana County, Ohio, became familiar with John Brown and his men during their visits to Springdale, as did his older brother, Edwin.

He managed to escape with four other Brown men during the Harpers Ferry debacle and made it back to the farm house that had served as a staging area for the raid. Led out of the area by John Brown's son, Owen, he finally made it home to Springdale.

Although Virginia's governor made repeated efforts to have Coppock extradited for trial, Iowan's --- including Gov. Samuel J. Kirkwood --- successfully shielded him until outbreak of the Civil War made his fugitive status a moot point.

During the spring of 1861, Coppock was commissioned a first lieutenant in Co. C, Third Kansas Volunteer Infantry --- James Montgomery's "John Brown Regiment." On the night of Sept. 3-4, 1861, returning to Kansas from a recruiting assignment in Ohio, Barclay was aboard a train bound from Hannibal to St. Joseph, Missouri, that crashed off a bridge over the Little Platte River east of St. Joseph that had been sabotaged by bushwackers. He was 20 at the time of the Harpers Ferry raid and 22 at death.

His remains were taken to Leavenworth, Kansas, and buried in Mount Aurora Cemetery there, but that cemetery later was abandoned, then destroyed by the city of Leavenworth and his remains were lost. Also lost at Mount Aurora were the remains of the parents of Iowa native William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody, Isaac and Mary Cody.

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