A Rhode Island Man Claims to Be the Last Survivor.
Providence, R.I., Feb. 4. – [Special Correspondence.] – It was generally supposed when Owen Brown died in Pasadena, Cal., two years ago, that the last participant in John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry in 1859 had passed away. But that idea is incorrect. Richard W. Howard, the only survivor of the foray, lives at Coweset, R.I., and at the age of 57 is halo and hearty, and bids fair to live for many years to tell the tale of those times.
Howard was 24 years old at the time of Brown’s attack on the old arsenal. He was a Rhode Island boy and emigrated to Kansas. There he met Brown and Kagi, Brown’s right-hand man. He aided them in some of their raids into Missouri after slaves and was made a confidant as to their plans. A constitution was drawn up in Canada, and under it Brown was chosen Commander-in-Chief and J. Henry Kagi Secretary of War. Mr. Howard has a copy of this constitution in cipher, but says that he has never worked it out. The story of the rendezvous at the Kennedy farm and Brown’s life there previous to the attack, as related by Mr. Howard, is interesting.
Brown expected men and arms from all over the country, and in fact some aid was approaching when he made the fatal attack. This attack was made ten days earlier than planned owing to the fear that there was a traitor in their ranks. To secure the 150,000 rifles which Brown supposed were in the arsenal at Harper’s Ferry was the objective point. The twenty-two men, five of whom were blacks, took the place in the night, and met but little resistance. A train came along and was unmolested, and the engineer took the news to Baltimore. Had Brown taken what arms his adherents could carry and retreated to his rock-bound retreat, Howard thinks all would have been well, for the Kennedy farm was a place as easily defended as Thermopylae. The second day the troops arrived, and the little band were shut in like rats in a hole. After being driven out of the arsenal Kagi and five others, Howard among them, tried to hold a dugout on the river bank on the Virginia side. The fire became too hot for them, and they started for a rocky island in the middle of the river. Kagi and the four other men were killed, a half-dozen bullets striking Kagi at the same time. Howard says that his escape was this way:
“When 200 men are firing at 5 it is a narrow chance. Troops were coming in on the trains. That was the reason we took to the rock. So much lead came down all about me I got into the river. I went under the water and kept under, coming up but once or twice. I went with the current , and when I got out far enough I paddled a little faster. When I floated the current helped me a little. I thought of that chance. It seemed to be the only way. I saw dead bodies floating down and the troops thought I was killed with the others. When I reached land on the Maryland side I went to the Kennedy house, from there to St. Louis, and thence back to Rhode Island.”
John Brown and six of the captured men were hanged at Charlestown, Va., for treason and murder. Howard would have shared their fate had he been captured. He kept quiet until the war broke out, when he enlisted in the Ninth Rhode Island Regiment. Howard is confident that if the attack had been delayed the result would have been altogether different. They would soon have had thousands of men to aid them in their scheme of liberating the Virginia slaves. Howard says that he knows where Brown’s papers were buried. Howard was impressed with Brown’s deep religious spirit, the strict obedience of his sons, and the confidence he had in the ultimate success of his scheme, and he resents any attacks upon the martyr’s sincerity or sanity.