Gibson-Todd House – Charles Town, West Virginia - Atlas Obscura

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Gibson-Todd House

Charles Town, West Virginia

This striking Victorian Home with its 113-foot turret is best known as the site where abolitionist John Brown was executed in 1859. 

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The Gibson-Todd House is most well known as the site where abolitionist John Brown and six other men were hanged on charges of murder, treason, and insurrection between December 1859 and March 1860. Brown was born in Connecticut in 1800. In the mid-1850s, he led the Free State forces in Kansas, fighting pro-slavery settlers on the frontier, but made minimal headway.

Undaunted, he organized a cabal of freedom fighters in 1859 and set out for Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, where he aimed to seize a cache of Federal weapons with which to establish a clutch of liberated enslaved people and abolitionist whites. The early stages of the raid were a success as strategic parts of town were captured, but the success was short-lived as word of the raid spread quickly.

Confederate forces arrived, including John T. Gibson who led the first raid on Brown’s forces, and later, U.S. Marines under the command of Robert E. Lee and J.E.B. Stuart, who quickly recaptured the arsenal and took Brown and others from his party alive.

Brown was sentenced to death by hanging on November 2, 1859, and executed exactly one month later on a scaffold in a field on which Gibson would later build his remarkable home. 

Present at the hanging were Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, John Wilkes Booth, and Henry David Thoreau, along with throngs of Confederate militiamen, on hand to suppress any potential rescue missions. Brown was considered a deranged madman by confederates, but many northerners regarded him as a hero and martyr.

While the scaffold is long gone, historical markers and signage stand as reminders of Brown’s death and include his final message, given to a jail guard, which read “I John Brown am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land: will never be purged away; but with Blood. I had as I now think: vainly flattered myself that without very much bloodshed; it might be done.”

Prescient words, indeed.

Know Before You Go

Gibson-Todd House was added to the National Register of Historic Places on September 1, 1983. It is currently a private residence, so please do not enter the yard. Signage can be easily viewed from the sidewalk.

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