Less than a month after John Brown's infamous raid on Harper's Ferry, Clarke County slave owner's worst nightmare was realized: evidence of a potential slave insurrection was discovered.
Newspapers from three different states reported on the story of Jerry and Joe, enslaved men belonging to Col. Francis McCormick, in the first few weeks of 1860. According to the story, a Mr. Chamblin came across two enslaved men working in a field, and stopped to chat with them. Being so close behind John Brown's raid, Mr. Chamblin "innocently" asked them what they thought of the "John Brown affair." Jerry readily answered that he was "glad to hear of it." Jerry told the man that he, his four sons, Joe, who was standing next to him in the field, and numerous other enslaved persons in the area would have readily gone and joined John Brown, except they didn't quite know where to go, or when to go.
Ten or so days later, Mr. Chamblin went back in search of Jerry and more information, his suspicions having been aroused after the first meeting. Jerry, once again, was, according to the accounts, ready and willing to share information on the plots to burn down houses of wealthy white residents. Apparently Jerry had been to Berryville sometime before to purchase matches, but couldn't find any.
All we know about the story comes from the newspapers - and we can assume Jerry's side of the story was never taken. After a trial, Joe was to be sold out of state, a common method of dealing with nettlesome enslaved persons, and Jerry was sentenced to hang - February 17, 1860. For one reason or another, Governor Letcher commuted his sentence on February 10 - just one week before his scheduled execution. What became of Jerry or Joe, we may never know.
It is worth mentioning the connection, however unknown, Jerry had to John Brown. It is alleged that Francis McCormick owned a tall grandfather clock that was worked on by John Brown "in disguise" just before the raid. It is also known that McCormick attended both the trail and execution of John Brown. Does that add anything to the story? Perhaps not, but it is rather intriguing.
Melanie is the current archivist for the Clarke County Historical Association, in Berryville, Virginia. She is a graduate from Shepherd University, where she earned a degree in History.