John Powell describes the Park's Six Paths through History, especially
that of John Brown.
Behind Frank Muhly is a mural showing the Federal armory and
arsenal in the mid-nineteenth century.
"John Brown's Fort" was built as the Armory's fire
engine and guard house. Here John Brown and several of his followers
barricaded themselves during their raid in October 1859.
In preparation for the Bicentennial Celebration of
the Lewis and Clark expedition (1803-1806), 17 members of the Philadelphia
Chapter of the national Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation
traveled to Harpers Ferry National Park in West Virginia for tours
hosted by park rangers on Saturday and Sunday, April 28 and 29.
Saturday's tour began at 2 pm at the Visitor's Center. Ranger John
Powell explained the various strands that make Harpers Ferry such
an important historical site: Industry, John Brown, Civil War, African
American History, and Transportation. The group stopped at the many
preserved buildings and points of interest. In the evening everyone
gathered for dinner at the Anvil Restaurant.
On Sunday morning, with the weather again clear and
cool, Park Ranger David Fox spoke about Meriwether Lewis in Harpers
Ferry. Members entered a now empty building and learned what plans
are being made for the Bicentennial Exhibit of Meriwether Lewis's
visits there in 1803 as he prepared for the fabled exploration of
the West by the "Corps of Discovery."
Ranger David Fox and the Philadelphia Chapter visitors outside
the building which will house the Meriwether Lewis exhibit in
A view of the town from the stone pillar that marks the original
site of John Brown's Fort.
Friends and family gather at the confluence of the Potomac and
The view from Jefferson's Rock. Thomas Jefferson stood here on
October 25, 1783. He described the scene in Notes on the
State of Virginia. "The scene is worth a voyage across
the Atlantic," he wrote.
Redbud trees were blooming in the Park and along the roads and
highways on the beautiful April weekend.
WHY HARPERS FERRY?
From mid-March to mid-April of 1803, Captain Meriwether
Lewis stayed at the US Army Arsenal at Harpers Ferry to supervise
the building of a portable iron frame boat which he had designed
to put together and cover with animal skins when the waterway became
too narrow, and to order 15 "Pennsylvania" rifles, munitions, 36
pipe tomahawks, and other supplies to add to the 3,500 pounds of
equipment, scientific instruments, books and Indian trade goods
which he would later purchase in Philadelphia during May and June,
1803. Lewis would dovetail this latter shopping spree with "instructional
visits" in the City-- time spent with four of five learned mentors
who were friends of Jefferson. These were members of the American
Philosophical Society, physicians Caspar Wistar and Bejamin Rush,
mathematician and scientist Robert Patterson, and Dr. Benjamin Smith
Barton, botanist at the University of Pennsylvania.
Between his month at the Arsenal and his arrival in
Philadelphia in mid-May, Lewis would stop in Lancaster, PA, with
the mentor with whom he spent the greatest period of time. Andrew
Ellicott, noted astronomer and mathematician, polished Lewis's use
of the sextant and chronometer, celestial navigation instruments
essential in determining latitude and longitude, imperative for
producing accurate maps of the unknown lands to be explored. Lewis
also bought more rifles in Lancaster during this visit. (The Philadelphia
Chapter of LCTHF has previously visited Ellicott's
house for the installation of a Pennsylvania Historical
and Museum Commission sign commemorating Lewis's visit there.)
While spending May and part of June in Philadelphia,
Lewis attended to several personal tasks that Jefferson had assigned
him. While visiting his mentors, he sought their comments on a draft
of Jefferson's long detailed letter of instruction for the journey
which the President had sent to him for just that purpose. Upon
his return to Washington, he and Jefferson attacked the task of
completing the highly specific letter of instructions for the journey.
Jefferson wanted to be clear on what he expected.
Throughout this entire period, Lewis used his many
military contacts in a search for appropriate men for the "Corps
of Discovery," a job he considered to be of utmost importance. While
in Washington in June, he wrote his famous letter to William Clark,
retired from service in the Army during the Whiskey Rebellion, inviting
him to be his co-captain of the journey. Clark's positive response
has become a classic among letters related to the expedition. His
last days in Washington were spent in a maelstrom of activity but
on July 2, he paused to write a letter to his mother Lucy Marks
at the family plantation at Locust Hill, Virginia. He said he would
have no time to visit and gave instructions himself as to the education
of his half brother, John Marks.
Before leaving Harpers Ferry, Lancaster, and Philadelphia,
Lewis ordered the"impedimenta" he had collected in each locale shipped
by various transport to Pittsburgh where he later ordered the building
of a 55-foot keel boat. For two days over roads which could only
be covered at 7 or so miles per hour, Meriwether Lewis traveled
from Washington to his rendezvous with his supplies. He left on
July 5, a day after receiving confirmation that Napoleon had sold
all of Louisiana to the United States. He was carrying with him
Jefferson's competed letter of instructions and the most liberal
letter of credit ever issued by the United States Army. It would
take him until August 31 to insure that all his cargo had converged
upon the meeting point and that the keel boat was completed to satisfaction
and loaded. On that day, Lewis, with the first 12 of what would
become a "Corps of Discovery" of over 40 men, had loaded his keel
boat and a couple of "pirogues" or dug-out canoes to take the overload,
and was piloting them with difficulty down the drought-stricken
Ohio River to meet his co-captain William Clark, accompanied by
his black slave, York, at Clarksville, Indiana Territory. The Mississippi,
Missouri, and Columbia Rivers, and countless yet un-named tributaries,
Sacagawea and her infant son, the Rockies, starvation, hostile and
helpful Indian tribes, vast herds of buffalo, the prairie dog, more
that 200 new plants, 122 animals new to American science, myriad
readings of the stars, pages of journal notes, handfuls of "bilious
pills" and 3,700 miles lay ahead in a fascinating saga which began
in 1803 right here in our backyard. And the findings are here in
our institutions as well.