This post was co-authored by Barbara Bavis and Robert Brammer, Legal Reference Specialists.
December 2nd marked the 154th anniversary of the execution of John Brown, an act which transformed John Brown into a martyr for the abolitionist movement and further inflamed the sectional tensions that would ignite the Civil War. We previously featured the Jefferson County, West Virginia Courthouse , where John Brown was tried and convicted for murder, inciting slaves to rebel, and treason, as our picture of the week. After the trial, John Brown was returned to the Jefferson County Jail, where he awaited execution. On December 2, 1859, this light freight wagon, owned by George W. Sadler, a local undertaker, as well as a furniture and coffin maker, arrived at the jail to transport John Brown to the gallows. Four days after the execution, the Staunton Spectator reported:
“At the door of the jail an open wagon with a pine box, in which was a fine oak coffin, was waiting for him [Brown]. He looked around and spoke to several persons whom he recognized, and walking down the steps, was assisted to enter the wagon, and he took his seat on the box containing his coffin along with Jailor Avis.”
The John Brown Wagon [Photo by Robert Brammer]
Inside the John Brown Wagon [Photo by Robert Brammer]
This wagon also carried seven of the other survivors of the raid on Harper’s Ferry to the gallows. The wagon changed hands several times over the course of the next century, before finding a permanent home in the Jefferson County, West Virginia Museum
. The museum features several other artifacts related to John Brown, including the Bible owned by Andrew Hunter, the attorney who prosecuted Brown on behalf of the state.
 Staunton Spectator (Dec. 6, 1859), as cited in P. Douglas Perks, “The old wagon will make a fine exhibit…,” 75 Magazine of the Jefferson County Historical Society 114 (Oct. 2009).
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