Restricted Heyward Shepherd Monument Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia

Jan 28, 2021
Heyward Shepherd Monument

Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia

Monument’s Inscription:

“On the night of October 16, 1859, Heyward Shepherd, an industrious and respected colored freeman, was mortally wounded by John Brown’s raiders. In pursuance of his duties as an employee of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company, he became the first victim of this attempted insurrection.

In 1931, this boulder was erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Sons of Confederate Veterans as a memorial to Heyward Shepherd, exemplifying the character and faithfulness of thousands of Negros who, under many temptations throughout subsequent years of war, so conducted themselves that no stain was left upon a record which is the peculiar heritage of the American people, and an everlasting tribute to the best of both races.”

Heyward Shepherd lived in Winchester, Virginia, about thirty miles from Harper’s Ferry, where he owned property with his wife and five children. He worked as a porter in the Harper’s Ferry train station. October 16, 1859, the night of Brown’s Raid, Shepherd walked to the Potomac River railroad bridge where he was confronted by two of Brown’s men. Ignoring their order to halt, he turned and ran but the armed raiders fired, striking Shepherd in the back just below the heart. He made his way back to the railroad office, where he lingered for half a day before dying on the 17th.

Chris Mackowski wrote for Emerging Civil War, on October 17, 2019, “Civilian casualties like Shepherd don’t often get the attention they deserve, and so the marker provides some measure of recognition to an unfortunate innocent bystander whom history might otherwise have forgotten.”

In 1932, the NAACP responded by preparing a plaque by WEB Dubois in order to challenge the text on the boulder. This plaque was not displayed until 2006 when it was placed on the side of the firehouse, which had been used by Brown as a fort during the siege and capture of him and his group.

In 1955 and again in 1994, the National Park Service added plaques nearby to contextualize the original 1931 boulder.

The original 1931 monument was in storage from 1976 until 1980 and then covered by plywood until 1995.

With the addition of the subsequent –at the time considered to be contemporary- interpretive markers erected in response to the original boulder, another statement by Mackowski from his Emerging Civil War post puts this monument’s unusual story into perspective: “ any memorialization, this monument preserves a particular memory with a particular slant.”