Texas Auction House to Sell Abolitionist John Brown Leg Irons

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  • MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — The leg irons that restrained abolitionist John Brown after his failed 1859 raid on a federal arsenal in Harpers Ferry are being sold Saturday in Texas, but two historical parks dedicated to his legacy can’t afford to bid on them.

    Dallas-based Heritage Auctions estimates the shackles are worth at least $10,000, but some Brown memorabilia has fetched much more. In 2007, a rare daguerreotype sold for $97,750 at a Cincinnati auction.

    John Boling of Buhl, Idaho, whose family has long owned them, said his family hopes that whoever buys the shackles will display them publicly.

    “We believe that history should be learned and understood,” said Boling, whose great-great-great-grandfather, Hezekiah Atwood Jr., apparently obtained them shortly after Brown’s execution on Dec. 2, 1859, in what is today West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle.

    History long regarded Brown as a domestic terrorist, and some Southerners still do. Many scholars consider Brown and his raid to be flash points, hastening the start of the Civil War.

    But many now see him as a martyr, ahead of his time in trying to end slavery. The Connecticut native spent months plotting to seize 100,000 weapons from the arsenal and use them to launch a guerrilla war with the slaves he believed would join him.

    Yet the first casualty in the Harpers Ferry raid was a free black man, a baggage handler who bled to death while Brown’s raiders grabbed hostages and holed up at a fire engine house. Within 48 hours, the rebellion was dead, along with at least four civilians, 10 raiders and a U.S. Marine.

    Brown was tried for treason, murder and inciting a rebellion. He was hanged in Charles Town, and is buried on his former farmstead in North Elba, N.Y., now home to the John Brown Farm State Historic Site.

    An official with New York’s parks system said the state has no plans to bid.

    “The raid didn’t happen here, and we don’t have the resources at this time,” said Brendan Mills, manager of the site near Lake Placid. “If they were donated, we would take them,”

    Much of the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park is devoted to the story of John Brown, but Superintendent Rebecca Harriett said Monday that she was unaware of the auction. Funding would also be an issue, she said, “especially on such short notice.”

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