Letter home by John A. Copeland (1859)
In this letter to his family, John A. Copeland (OC enr. 1854-55) described his reasons for participating in the Harpers Ferry raid. Copeland asked for forgiveness, and said goodbye to his family.
John A. Copeland to "Father and Mother" November 26, 1859
Copied by Mrs. E.B. Clark
Copy of a Letter from John Copeland
Charlestown, Va. Nov. 26. '59
Dear father & mother,
I now take my pen to address you for the first time since I have been in the situation that I am now in. My silence has not been occasioned by any want of love for you but because I wished to wait & find what my doom would be. I am well at this time & as happy as it is possible to be under the circumstances. I received your kind and affectionate letter, which brought much consolation to me, & the advice that you have therein given me, I thank God I can say I have accepted, & I have found that consolation which ran only be found by accepting & obeying such advice. Dear father & mother, happy am I that I can now truthfully say, that I have sought the Holy Bible & have found that everlasting Life in its holy advice, which man can from no other source obtain. Yes, I have now in the eleventh hour sought for & obtained that forgiveness from my God, whose kindness I have outraged nearly all-my life.
Dear Parents, my fate so far as man can seal it, is sealed, but let not this fact occasion you any misery; for remember the cause in which I was engaged, remember it as a holy cause, one in which men in every way better than I am, have suffered & died. Remember that if I must die, I die in-trying to liberate a few of my poor & oppressed people from a condition of servitude against which God in his word has hurled his most bitter denunciations, a cause in which men, who though removed from its direct injurious effects by the color of their faces have already lost their lives, & more yet must meet the fate which man has decided I must meet. If die I must, I shall try to meet my fate as a man who can suffer in the glorious cause in which I have been engaged, without a groan, & meet my Maker in heaven as a christian man who through the saving grace of God has made his peace with Him.
Dear Parents, dear bro's & sisters, miserable indeed would I be if I were confined in this jail awaiting the execution of the law for committing a foul crime; but this not being the case, I must say, (though I know you all will feel deeply the fate I am to meet,) that I feel more deeply on acc't of the necessity of myself or any other man having to suffer by the existence of slavery, than from the mere fact of having to die. It is true I should like to see you all once more on the earth, but God wills otherwise; therefore I am content, for most certainly do I believe that God wills everything for the best good, not only of those who have to suffer directly, but of all, & this being the case I beg of you not to grieve about me.
Now dear Parents I beg your forgiveness for every wrong I have done you, for I know that I have not at all times treated you as I ought to have done. Remember me while I shall live & forget me not when I am no longer in this world. Give my love to all friends. There are some little matters that I would give most anything to have settled-& made right. There have been misrepresentations of things which I have said; & if I can I shall correct them.
Oh brothers, I pray you may never have to suffer as I shall have to do: stay at home contentedly, make your home happy not only to yourselves but to all with whom you may be connected. Dear Brothers & Sisters, love one another, make each other happy, love, serve & obey your God, & meet me in heaven. Now, dear father & mother, I will close this last, - or at present I think last letter - I shall have the pleasure of writing to you.
Good-bye Mother & Father, Goodbye brothers & sisters, & by the assistance of God, meet me in heaven.
I remain your most affectionate son - John A. Copeland.
Copied very hastily by
Mrs. E.B. Clark
- Introduction & Bust of John Brown (1870)
- Ambrotype of Samuel Swifin Burdett, Gardner C. Trowbridge, and Henry Payson Kinney, who were involved in Bleeding Kansas (1856)
- Letter home by John A. Copeland (1859)
- Photograph of Lewis S. Leary, Harpers Ferry participant (c.1850s)
- "A Journey to Virginia in December, 1859," A Thursday Lecture by James Monroe (1898), p. 158-59.
- Harpers Ferry Monument, courtesy of EOG
- "His Soul Goes Marching On: The Life and Legacy of John Brown," online exhibit by the West Virginia Archives and History in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry
- Additional letters of John Copeland, courtesy of EOG