Sunday, October 14, 2012

Life with the "Invisibles" at Kennedy Farm

In the summer of 1859, my just shy of sixteen year old great-great grandmother, Annie, and her just shy of seventeen year old sister-in-law, Martha, joined John Brown and his band of followers at the Kennedy Farm in Maryland just a few miles across the state line from Harpers Ferry, Virginia.

John Brown, going under the assumed name of Isaac Smith, rented the Kennedy Farm to use as a base of operation for his planned attack on the arsenal at Harpers Ferry and subsequent slave uprising that he was certain would follow his daring raid. He had written home asking Mary, his wife, to come and keep house for him and the men. He suggested that their eldest daughter, Annie, also come to help. Mary declined, siting her poor health and the needs of the younger children, as the reasons she could not fulfill her husbands request.

Annie and Martha, the eldest girls at the farm in North Elba, NY volunteered to go. Annie was anxious to assist her father, and Martha wanted to be with her husband of four months, Oliver, who was at Kennedy Farm preparing to fight at his father's side. Martha elected herself head housekeeper because she was an older married woman. One or two months pregnant, Martha slipped off the loft ladder the day they were leaving and severely twisted her ankle. But nothing was going to keep her from being with her husband.

Martha did most of the cooking, while Annie was the all-important lookout, who warned the men to go into hiding when ever a noisy neighbor happened to come near the house. 

Annie wrote about the first night they arrived at the farm, and gives an inside view of what the men, and the young girls, endured during that summer. She included the reminiscence in letters sent to her friend, Dr. Alexander Ross of Canada. It is an endearing description of two young women trying to take care of the "invisibles" as Annie later called the men.



"We commenced housekeeping at Kennedy Farm sometime in July.  I cannot now remember the date, although I remember the day well.  Father and my brothers went to The Ferry to purchase a stove and necessary articles, Martha and I went to the house and tried to surprise them with a dinner which we tried to cook in an old fireplace.  We had been boarding for a few days at a neighbors who lived nearby.  We succeeded after making several attempts in getting a poor fire to burn, and boiled some potatoes and onions which tipped nearly over several times, spilling out a few each time. We was trying to make some kind of bread when the boys arrived bringing bread and rusks from the bakery, relieving us of that source of worriment to older housekeepers than we. 

We ate our dinner camp fashion and began housekeeping in real earnest.  Our family at that time consisted of six persons, Father, J G Anderson, Owen, Oliver, Martha and I.  Kagi had gone to Chambersburg and they had not found Cook yet. He had done to Harpers Ferry the year before and was teaching school there.  He had married the daughter of the woman he boarded with about the time we went down there.

The first addition to our family was my brother Watson, and William and Dauphin Thompson who came on a few weeks after Oliver, Martha and I did.  Then followed the rest over, two, three and four at a time. These last arrivals all came secretly by way of Chambersburg. Father and some of the rest going there with a light covered wagon, in which they rode or else walked a part of the way. They would hide in the woods and come in to the house before daylight in the morning or else after dark at night.

They all lived up stairs over the dining room, coming down to their meals, and at any time that there was no strangers or visitors about. It was my special business to keep watch on the porch and signal to them with my hand, if any one approached when they would disappear quietly up the stairway closing the door after them, while I remained and entertained the company directly under them, as if nothing unusual had happened.

We had one neighbor, our nearest one, a very little woman, but she often caused us a good deal of trouble, by coming at such unreasonable hours to call, bringing her four children.

I attended to the dining room, waiting on the men. I used to call them my "invisibles." If any on approached while they were at their meals I would let them know, when they would each take articles of food and dishes, clearing the table and disappear as usual, while I kept the person or persons on the porch as long as I could.

The men used to sing, play games and read to pass away the time. Kagi who was stationed at Chambersburg always sent them a bundle of papers and magazines whenever the wagons made a trip. It was very tiresome for them to be shut-in the house without exercise so long.  They would go out in evenings and walk to rest themselves"
Annie's hand drawn map of the farmhouse

 In the late 1800s until her death in 1926, Annie wrote letters and articles about her father and her time at Kennedy Farm.





Photo by Fred Mecoy 2009

The Kennedy Farm was purchased by a black Hagerstown minister, Reverend Leonard W. Curlin, in 1949, and sold to a white private developer, South T. Lynn, in the early 1970s. Capt Lynn has spent more than $100,000 in personal, state and federal funds to restore the Kennedy Farm house back to the 1859 appearance.






In 1974 the Kennedy Farm was designated a National Historical Landmark




In 2009 I had the great honor of participating in the sesquicentennial anniversary of the Harpers Ferry Raid and one of the most moving events I participated in was the re-enactment of the night of Oct 16, 1859 when John Brown and his men hiked from Kennedy Farm to take control of the Harpers Ferry Armory. I stood on the upper porch and spoke words of my ancestors. It was an unforgettable night for me.
Photo by Fred Mecoy 2009


In this photo, Dennis Frye, Harpers Ferry Historian, Capt. South Lynn, Alice Keesey Mecoy, Capt. Lynn's son.

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