The "John Brown Bell" in Marlborough, MA
March 07, 2012
On Saturday, March 10 at 2 PM the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library Inc. (National Heritage Museum) will be offering a free lecture with Tony Horwitz, author of Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War. To learn more about the talk, read our previous blog post about this public program.
The history and story of John Brown abolitionist and militant has captivated audiences for over 150 years. Not only is it a Virginia story but it has a Massachusetts connection. Perhaps the speaker or members of the audience already know about the “John Brown Bell” of Marlborough, Massachusetts.
In the summer of 1861, members of Company I, 13th Massachusetts Volunteers were camped by the Potomac River, near Harpers Ferry. Some of these enlisted men were members of the Marlborough Volunteer Fire Department. The militia was ordered to cross the river and seize anything of value for the US Government, and diligently searched the arsenal for items that might be of use or profitable. Others had had already been there before and taken anything worth confiscating.
Not wishing to return completely empty-handed, the men entered the engine house at Harpers Ferry that had served as Brown’s headquarters during the raid. The militia spotted the bell in the engine-house and decided to take it home to Marlborough. The bell, it was reasoned, could be presented to the city’s Hook and Ladder Company, who found themselves bell-less at the time.
Was the bell Federal property that should be handed over to the government or was it a war souvenir?
In 1862 the company did not have sufficient funds to send it home and the on-going military conflicts also prevented them from getting the bell to Marlborough.
From 1862 to 1892 the bell resided in Williamsport, Maryland. Mrs. George Snyder, a local resident, had kept the bell for the company. In 1892, former members of Company I, now organized in a Grand Army of the Republic chapter, returned to Williamsport and, after finding the bell still in Mrs. Snyder’s possession, raised the necessary money to have the bell shipped to Marlborough.
Over thirty years after its removal in 1861 from the engine-house in Harpers Ferry, the bell was eventually placed in the “John Brown Bell Tower” in Union Common at the intersection of Main and Bolton Street in Marlborough, Massachusetts, where it resides to this day. To learn more, visit the Marlborough Historical Society website.
Should a bell of such historic importance be located in Harpers Ferry, Marlborough or elsewhere? We look forward to hearing if Tony Horwitz has something to add on this subject.
Courtesy of Claudia Roche