Jeﬀerson County Courthhouse
—Prelude to War —
One of the most famous trials in American history was held in this building in 1859, when John Brown and his followers faced charges of treason against Virginia, inciting slaves to rebel, and murder. Judge Richard Parker presided.
The trial began on October 25, a week after the raiders were captured, and ended on November 2. Those tried then and later included Brown, John Cook, John Copeland, Shields Green, Edwin Coppic, Albert Hazlett, and Aaron Stevens. Col. Lewis W. Washington, kidnapped by Brown's men from his home, Beallair, and held hostage, was a principal witness for the prosecution. The jury convicted Brown in forty-five minutes. Brown addressed the court, saying, "If it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments, I submit; so let it be done!" He and his men were hanged nearby on December 2 and December 16, 1859, and March 16, 1860.
On October 18, 1863, Confederate Gen. John D. Imboden attacked Union Col. Benjamin Simpson's Charles Town garrison. Simpson and his infantry took shelter in the courthouse, which Imboden shelled after his surrender demand was refused. The garrison fled, was
attacked in a nearby field, and surrendered after Simpson and his staff escaped. Imboden withdrew later that day as additional Union forces arrived.
[Text in yellow box reads] The first courthouse here, a two-story building with a cupola but no columns, was completed in 1803. The present Greek Revival-style courthouse replaced it in 1836. The courtroom was on the ground floor, and the judge and court officials sat on an elevated platform behind a railing. The county seat moved to Shepherdstown in 1865 because of wartime damage to the courthouse. It returned to Charles Town in 1872 after the building was repaired. The walls were heightened, a broad cornice was added below the roofline, the bell tower was enlarged, and the clock was added. A new courtroom was created on the second floor. In 1922, leaders of the United Mine Workers were tried here for treason against West Virginia for the coal miners' war (Battle of Blair Mountain). Union leader Bill Blizzard and several others were acquitted. Trials for treason against two states thus were held in this courthouse.
[Image captions, from left to right, read]
Judge Richard Parker
Courtesy West Virginia State Archives
John Brown's trial, Harper's Weekly
, Nov. 12, 1859
Courtesy Richard A. Wolfe
[Map of Civil War Sites in Jefferson County]