Article Archive >> Autumn Tourism
The Kennedy Farm: The secret six
The Kennedy Farm
The secret six
On July 3, 1859, John Brown, sons, Owen and Oliver, and Brown's trusty Lieutenant, Jeremiah Anderson, arrived by train at Sandy Hook, Maryland--a small village about one mile beyond Harpers Ferry on the Maryland side of the Potomac River.
At this point in his life Brown was a wanted man with a large price on his head for his actions in the Kansas Territory.
The four men presented themselves as Issac Smith & Sons, cattlemen from New York. They sought a small farm to serve as a feeding lot for the cattle they intended to purchase and fatten. The Kennedy Farm was to be the staging area for their intended raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. John Unseld, a resident of the neighborhood, suggested the old Kennedy farm. Doctor Kennedy had died earlier that spring and the farmhouse was vacant and unfurnished, a perfectly isolated, hide-away for Brown and his men. John Brown and his bunch went to the farm. Liking what they saw, they leased the deserted residence for $35 in gold for nine months.
Brown was afraid that a home filled with men might arouse suspicion to outsiders, so he request that his wife join him. Brown's wife, Mary Ann, was much too busy at home, so she sent her daughter-in-law, Martha, Oliver's 17-year-old wife, and her 16-year-old daughter Annie.
They arrived in mid-July. Annie and Martha served as the cook and housekeepers for the Provisional Army of the United States. They found one woman who lived down the road particularly bothersome. Annie said that one day, while she and her father were out, the nosy neighbor peeked inside and saw one of the Negro recruits. "We were in constant fear that she was either a spy or would betray us. It was like standing on a powder magazine, after a slow match had been lighted."
Throughout the summer, men secretly gathered at the farm in preparation for the attack. To neighbors, everything seemed normal. But in the attic of Kennedy Farm, Brown's army was hiding, waiting for the leader to finalize his plans.
John Kagi, in Chambersburg, sent a shipment of rifles, pikes, and pistols to the farm, in boxes marked "Hardware and Castings."
In late September, as it grew closer to the time of attack, Annie and Martha were sent back home, to North Elba, and the men made their final preparations. There were twenty-one members of the army hidden in the attic loft. Brown and his followers spent some 3 1/2 months at Kennedy Farm in the summer of 1859.
Life at the Farm grated on the men's nerves. In order to keep a low local profile, the men had to stay inside all day, cooped up in two buildings, playing checkers, reading, polishing their rifles, wrote letters home, and, of course, arguing. They drilled frequently, studying a military manual on guerrilla warfare. At night, they went outside for fresh air and exercise.
On the evening of October 16, 1859, Brown and his men left Kennedy Farm and marched toward Harpers Ferry. Marines would later search the farm, finding documents revealing Brown's Northern benefactors, "The Secret Six," fueling Southern fears of a full-scale Northern conspiracy.
In the late 40s, the National Negro Elks purchased it when Reverend Leonard W. Curlin, a Hagerstown Elk, persuaded the Tri-State Elks Lodge of its worth. These men hoped that they could restore the house and turn it into a museum and shrine for John Brown. But that wasn't in their future. Funds came in slowly and eventually the Elks couldn't maintain the property and sold it.
Private developer, South T. Lynn, bought and restored the Farm to its 1859 appearance with the help of a historic architect from the National Park Service.
The Federal Government has since deemed the house a National Historic Landmark. The old farmhouse has been completely restored. The Kennedy Farm is located at 2406 Chestnut Grove Road, Sharpsburg, Maryland.
<< back to Articles on Autumn Tourism
<< back to All Articles