At Cemetery, a John Brown Raider Is Remembered


At Cemetery, a John Brown Raider Is Remembered; [FINAL Edition]
Eugene L. Meyer. The Washington Post. Washington, D.C.: Nov 16, 2000. pg. J.08

Copyright The Washington Post Company Nov 16, 2000

Organized by the cemetery, descendants and Temple Hills genealogist Paul E. Sluby Sr., it was billed as a Veterans Day event. Yet, while [Osborne Perry Anderson] did serve in the Union Army during the Civil War, it was his participation in the pre-war raid on the federal arsenal in Harpers Ferry that made an indelible mark on history.

The Columbian Harmony Society section comprises about 40 of the 125 acres of burial ground located within sight of FedEx Field. The plaque to Anderson says, “This dedicated and brave Christian traveled from Chatham, Canada to Harpers Ferry, W. Va. to fight beside John Brown in his quest to abolish slavery.”

For Robert Berry, 54, of Brunswick, Anderson was also his great- great grandfather, a shadowy figure he’d heard about over the years but only now is beginning to know. “One day, my mother and I went up to Harpers Ferry and introduced ourselves to the National Park Service people,” he said. “They were surprised he had descendants.”

In a cemetery off Sheriff Road in Landover are buried many forgotten figures in African American history, among them John Brown raider Osborne Perry Anderson.

Last weekend, nearly 100 people came on a clear, breezy day to National Harmony Memorial Park to memorialize this forgotten abolitionist and to dedicate a bronze plaque to his memory at the site of his final resting place.

They included a color guard from Fairmont Heights High School, black Civil War reenactors, Prince George’s County Council Chairman Dorothy F. Bailey (D-Temple Hills), former D.C. Council member Frank Smith and a score of Anderson’s descendants.

That Anderson’s remains were there is no secret, though the exact grave site is unknown. However, Saturday’s ceremony was intended not to close the book on his life but to open a new chapter of remembrance.

“What it means for me is closure,” said Dennis Howard, 50, a District social worker and a great-great grandson. “At the same time, it’s a starting point.”

Organized by the cemetery, descendants and Temple Hills genealogist Paul E. Sluby Sr., it was billed as a Veterans Day event. Yet, while Anderson did serve in the Union Army during the Civil War, it was his participation in the pre-war raid on the federal arsenal in Harpers Ferry that made an indelible mark on history.

That 1859 attack, under the leadership of fiery abolitionist John Brown, is often cited by historians as a prime catalyst to the war that claimed 600,000 lives and ended slavery.

Born in Pennsylvania on July 17, 1830, Anderson was educated at Oberlin College in Ohio, then immigrated to Canada, where he learned the printing trade and met Brown in 1858.

Anderson was one of five blacks among Brown’s 21 raiders, and he was only one of a handful among the entire group who escaped and survived. He went on to write a book, “A Voice from Harper’s Ferry.”

Anderson enlisted in the Union Army in 1864. Mustered from service, he lived in Washington, where he belonged to the 15th Street Presbyterian Church and died of tuberculosis in December 1872 at 42. An obituary in the Washington Star described him as “a man of good character” eulogized by three ministers.

He was buried first in the Columbian Harmony Cemetery, founded by free blacks in 1825, at the current site of the Rhode Island Avenue Metro station parking lot in Northeast Washington.

The cemetery eventually fell into disuse and disrepair, and, in 1959, its 37,000 remains were disinterred and moved to Maryland, to the National Harmony Memorial Park.

Because of inadequate records and lack of contact with families, many of the remains were unidentified and reinterred without markers. Anderson’s exact location is among the many unknowns, and cemetery caretakers could only guess when placing the plaque.

The Columbian Harmony Society section comprises about 40 of the 125 acres of burial ground located within sight of FedEx Field. The plaque to Anderson says, “This dedicated and brave Christian traveled from Chatham, Canada to Harpers Ferry, W. Va. to fight beside John Brown in his quest to abolish slavery.”

Those attending the ceremony included Harpers Ferry Mayor Walton D. Stowell and three uniformed members of Company B of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Group, Civil War reenactors inspired by the film “Glory.”

They were led by Ben Hawley, the great-great grandson of an African American soldier in the Union Army.

“I like to feel I’m reliving history in his name,” said Hawley, who also said of honoree Anderson, “I mean, he was a hero. He was an inspiration.”

For Robert Berry, 54, of Brunswick, Anderson was also his great- great grandfather, a shadowy figure he’d heard about over the years but only now is beginning to know. “One day, my mother and I went up to Harpers Ferry and introduced ourselves to the National Park Service people,” he said. “They were surprised he had descendants.”

Berry is glad he did. “You know, I stop and think, if he had been captured and killed, I wouldn’t be here today.”

Other prominent 19th-century African Americans buried at the cemetery include George Beall, who established the first school for blacks in Washington in 1807; Francis Datcher, first president of the Columbian Harmony Society and for 42 years a messenger for the War Department; and William Slade, who was in charge of the hired help at the White House and was once described as Abraham Lincoln’s “friend and human comforter.”

Also Mary Ann Shadd Cary, a prominent abolitionist; James Wormley, proprietor of the internationally-known Wormley House hotel, at 15th and I Streets NW, and the Rev. John Cook, founder and first pastor of the 15th Street Presbyterian Church in 1841.

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