This two-act play chronicles the assault led by John Brown in 1859 on the United States armory and arsenal at the small river town of Harpers Ferry in what was then part of the state of Virginia. The attack shook the slave-holding South to its foundations and is considered by many to be the actual beginning of the American Civil War.
The first act is set in an ordinary farmhouse in Maryland, five miles away from Harpers Ferry. The nucleus of the abolitionist guerrilla band, formed with both African American and white members, has assembled there, and the men, accompanied by Mary and Martha Brown, are awaiting reinforcement. They are expecting fifty fighters from Canada, organized by the famous abolitionist, Harriet Tubman. They are hoping to be joined by a number of volunteers from the West, many of them veterans of the battles fought over slavery in Kansas.
Too much time has passed, however, and the tedium of inaction and being confined in such close quarters is taking its toll on the band’s morale. Mrs. Huffmaster, a neighbor from across the road, has acquired the habit of dropping in without warning a couple of times every day. When she arrives, the men have to stop their formal debates on theology and their games of cards and checkers. They must flee up the ladder and hide in the attic, which also serves as their bedroom. Mrs. Huffmaster is bribed with favors and gifts when she visits so that she will not divulge the strange activity at the farmhouse, but everyone knows that it is just a matter of time before she gives them away.
After Mrs. Huffmaster leaves at one point, the guerrilla band undergoes a crisis of confidence. Dangerfield Newby, a member of the African American guerrilla band, has received a letter from his wife, who is a slave. The letter tells him that she and his...
(The entire section is 745 words.)