Just before four in the morning on October 17th, 1859, six horsemen approached the Bellair Mansion of Lewis Washington. They had ridden the 4 miles from Harper’s Ferry at a brisk pace to complete their final orders before sun-up.
When they arrived at the path leading to the house, they dismounted and walked on quiet feet around to the rear. Two men broke off and headed for the carriage house while the others stopped on the porch. One of them pried loose a fence rail and with a helper, smashed it into the flimsy back door. It swung open and off its hinges and it slammed to the parquet floor. Another man lit a flambeau and led the way as the group scurried in, calling for “Colonel Washington …” in ghostlike baritone voices.
The flickered brilliance of the torch-light cast deep shadows below Washington’s raised eyebrows and downturned eyelids as he opened the door from within the master bedroom.
“What is it? Who’s there?” he probed the intruders before noticing the raised handguns pointing at his heart.
“You’ll find out soon enough, but for now, consider yourself our prisoner,” one of them said, “and I’m sure you recognize me by now, so you should know what I’m here for, retrieve it please … and dress yourself …”
By sunrise, Colonel Lewis Washington, great-grand-nephew of the first President of the United States, was being held hostage inside the armory at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. Across from him, looking out the corner of the window, was a tall old man. In his eyes was the vengeful fury of an Old-Testament prophet and in his hands was George Washington’s sword that was fabled to have come from Frederick the Great.
“With this blade will be won the freedom of a race,” John Brown said.