John Brown's small band of abolitionists were very well prepared for their October 1859 raid on the National Armory at Harpers Ferry. Two hundred breechloading Sharps carbines and pikes were shipped to Brown in Kansas by northern abolition societies. Many of these arms had been secretly moved to staging points near the government arms factory, situated at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers. But John Brown's attempt to seize control of thousands of muskets and rifles failed, and he and his followers were forced to fortify themselves in a small armory building.
In the aftermath of the storming of Brown's "fort" by U.S. Marines, some lucky bystanders and townspeople acquired .52-cal. Sharps carbines like this example, engraved with the name of a Philadelphia traveler stranded in town when the abolitionists disrupted travel on the B&O Railroad. Other Sharps carbines, picked up by civil and military authorities, were later issued to northern cavalry units during the Civil War years. Many of these historic carbines can be identified by a serial number list compiled by investigators tracing the origin of Brown's arms.
Reprinted from America's 1st Freedom, April 2004.