Strategic Location

This landscape view of Harpers Ferry shows the importance of the town's location. Harpers Ferry lies at the northern end of the Shenandoah Valley, where the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers meet. Because the community sits beside waters that could power machinery as well as serve as a natural roadway, it was chosen as the site for a U.S. government arsenal and arms factory. The location and the arsenal made Harpers Ferry a good target not only for John Brown in 1859, but also, two years later, for warring Civil War generals.


Captain Jonathan Walker, an abolitionist seaman, was arrested at Key West, Florida, in the 1850s with a boatload of escaped slaves. He was jailed and branded on the palm of his right hand with the letters SS. The letters stood for "slave stealer." Abolitionists showed copies of this photograph at antislavery rallies throughout the North.

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