The Harper's Ferry Reenactment
A Live Action Role Playing event on the eve of the US Civil War

A strategic map
of Harper's Ferry

By Scott David Gray.
ATTENTION: This page is NOT current or complete! This reenactment is a work in progress!

      Twenty-two men laid siege to the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry Virginia on Tuesday October 16th 1859. The raiders intended to arm the slaves on nearby plantations with seized weapons (there are supposed to be tens of thousands of high quality rifles in the arsenal), and start a nation-wide slave rebellion, using the Appalachian Mountains as the base for a guerrilla war. The raiders did not believe that they could defeat the southern armies, even with a large scale slave rebellion; instead they hoped to make it economically infeasible for slavery to continue in the American South.
      The town of Harper's Ferry is at the juncture of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers. The town is in Virginia on the border of Maryland -- in the mountainous part of Virginia that became "West Virginia" in 1863 after the start of the Civil War. The town is 65 miles North-West of Washington DC, on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.

      The Harper's Ferry Reenactment is a Live Action Role Playing (LARP) event. Each player in the event is given a character to portray. Each character has her/his own goals and personality.
      The Harper's Ferry Reenactment can accommodate between 40-60 players; 19 raiders and 21-41 cast members.
      The Harper's Ferry Reenactment will last for 20 hours, from 8:00 PM on Friday until 4:00 PM on Saturday. However, combat and strategic movement will only be possible for 12 hours; in order to allow players who wish to sleep uninterrupted to do so, a "time out" from combat and strategic movement will be called between the hours of 1:00 AM and 9:00 AM.
      All combat will be presented by the throwing of foam "boffer" projectiles (beanbags), and by the use of foam and pipe "boffer" hand-to-hand weapons. All weapons will be supplied or approved by the GMs.

      Harper's Ferry is not yet scheduled to run. Watch this space for updates.


Recent conflict over slavery in the US and territories      

In 1820, a series of measures were passed by Congress designed to placate the slave-holding states in the American South. The slave-holding states were concerned that, because few slavers were settling in the western territories, those opposed to slavery would gain a greater voice in the US congress once those territories were admitted as states. Along with other measures passed, the "Missouri Compromise" provided that the number of slave and free states must remain equal in the nation (at the time it passed, there were 11 slave and 11 free states in the Union), letting in Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state. It further provided that all territories created north of the 36-degree-30-minute parallel would be free, and all territories created south of it would be slave.

      On August 21st, 1831, African American slave and preacher Nat Turner began a carefully planned slave uprising in Virginia. After organizing about 20 men to rebellion in advance, Turner and six men went to the home of Turner's master Joseph Travers, and slew Joseph Travers and his family where they slept. The force grew to more than 40 slaves, most mounted on captured horses. Over the course of two days, before he was captured, Nat Turner and his men killed more than 50 slave owners. After hurried show trials, the state of Virginia executed 55 African Americans, and paid the slave owners reimbursement for their slaves. White mobs murdered more than 200 more African American slaves and free men, motivated by fear.

      A series of measures were passed in 1850, designed to maintain peaceable relations between the North and the South.
      California was admitted as a free state, and Texas had its boundary set at particular points. The territories of New Mexico and Utah were organized.
      The slave trade was suppressed in the District of Columbia, where the United States Capital of Washington is.
      The fugitive slave law passed by the US Congress in 1850 incurs severe penalties against free men and women who assist a slave in escape. The courts are directed that a slave owner who identifies any negro as an escaped slave, is allowed to capture the negro unless the negro has papers which identify him as free. No negro may appear in court to contest a slave owner's claim that the negro is a slave.

      In 1854, the Missouri Compromise was repealed by the Kansas-Nebraska act. The act was introduced to the Senate by the Democratic Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois, and barely passed by the US Congress. The Kansas-Nebraska act was a motion to allow Kansas and Nebraska to become US territories, and to let the residents of Kansas and Nebraska each choose whether to be slave or free, by popular ballot. Both territories were, under the act, to be granted statehood regardless of their decisions about slavery. Both territories were north of the parallel, and so this was seen as an attempt by pro-slavers to extend slavery into the North.
      The bill inspired such strong emotions, that the Senator from Massachusetts Charles Sumner gave a two day long speech of 112 pages, calling the bill "a crime against Kansas," describing Senator Douglas as a "noisome, squat and nameless animal," and using derogatory sexual imagery to describe Senator Andrew Butler from South Carolina (who was not present). Representative Preston Brooks from South Carolina, a relative of Senator Butler, came up behind Sumner on the Senate floor and clubbed him senseless with a cane. Sumner and Brooks each became heroes in their respective states.

      There was no serious pro-slavery faction in Nebraska. It was a foregone conclusion that the residents of the Nebraska territory would vote to make Nebraska free. Meanwhile, Kansas earned the nickname "Bleeding Kansas" because of the violence which occurred between those who wanted it to be a slave territory and those who wanted it to be a free territory. After learning that the Free town of Lawrence was captured and sacked by pro-slavers (who had the backing of US President Franklin Pierce), five well-known pro-slavers were dragged from their homes in Pottawatomie and executed. Most people believe that John Brown and four of his sons (Owen, Oliver, Watson, and son-in-law Harry Thompson) were responsible for the "Pottawatomie Massacre," though John Brown continues to deny any involvement. Now that they were hunted as outlaws, John Brown and his sons began to form an organized fighting force, and his men waged a defensive campaign against the pro-slavers and border ruffians from Missouri, including the great battles of Black Jack and Osawatomie.
      The pro-slavery faction in Kansas was found to have brought in pro-slavery persons from Missouri, who cast illegal votes in an election which made Kansas a slave territory. In response, northern abolitionists started settling in Kansas and called for an election which was patrolled to keep pro-slavers from casting ballots. Two rival governments were set up; a pro-slavery government in Leavenworth, and an anti-slavery government in Topeka.
      The pro-slavery US President Franklin Pierce sent Federal troops to disperse the free legislature. Another illegal ballot was conducted by the slaver-controlled provisional government in Kansas, and the state was declared a slave territory.
      Since that time, more and more abolitionists have been settling in Kansas, and have been calling for a new election now that they hold a clear majority.
      Anti-slavery sentiment swept the North after the passing of the Kansas-Nebraska act, and abolitionism was the central platform of the new Republican party.

      In 1857, the Supreme Court of the United States heard arguments in the "Dred Scott" case. Dred Scott was a slave belonging to a solder in the US army, Mr. Emerson. Emerson served in Illinois for some time (a slave state), and then in Wisconsin (a free territory), bringing his slave Dred Scott with him.
      After residing for some time in Wisconsin, the army ordered Mr. Emerson back to the slave state of Missouri, where Mr. Emerson died in 1846.
      Scott's lawyers argued that, because Dred Scott had lived on free soil long enough to become a free citizen himself, he was free and could no longer be traded as property.
      Dred Scott lost his case. Seven out of nine Justices on the Supreme Court declared no slave or descendant of a slave could be a U.S. citizen. As a non-citizen, the court stated, Scott had no rights to sue in Federal Court, and as such must remain a slave.
      The Supreme Court also ruled, as part of the Dred Scott decision, that Congress could not stop slavery in the newly emerging territories and declared the Missouri Compromise of 1820 to be unconstitutional. The Court declared that the Missouri Compromise violated the US Constitution, which prohibits Congress from depriving persons of their property without due process of law.

      Tensions between pro-slavery and anti-slavery states have been very obviously on the rise.
      In 1857, the Georgia State Senate adopted the following resolution: "Resolved, that his Excellency President Pierce, be requested to employ a sufficient number of able-bodied Irishmen to proceed to the State of Vermont and dig a ditch around the limits of the same, and float 'the thing' into the Atlantic."
      The free state of Massachusetts was so upset by the concessions to the pro-slavery South, that the Massachusetts legislature became the first state legislature to formally deliberate articles of secession from the United States.

      James Buchanan (from the pro-slavery Democratic party) is nearing the end of his first term as US President. Stephen Douglas and John Breckinridge are both fighting to be nominated to the office of President by the Democratic party. Abraham Lincoln, an abolitionist, is working to gain the Republican nomination to the US Presidency. Lincoln is considered unlikely to win the Presidency, in part because Lincoln had already lost a 1858 run against the popular Stephen Douglas for a Senate seat in Illinois, and in part because there are now more slave states than free states so the pro-slavery faction can control the electoral college.

The raiders, and cast roles that may appear

The raiders:

The cast:

Costuming, race and gender

      Raiders and cast alike will make a good faith effort to secure appropriate costuming.

      Given the nature of the event, it will be important to distinguish caucasian from negro characters. It will also be important to distinguish men from the women.
      In order to deal with the question of race, and the uncertainty of race or descent (particularly at night), we will be giving all players an out of game sash. The color of the sash will match, as nearly as possible, the color of the character's skin. This way, we can avoid makeup, people of any ethnic background can play people of any ethnic background, and yet ingame race will be easily distinguishable.
      If a character is supposed to be female, the player will wear a skirt or dress. If the character is supposed to be male, the player will be wearing pants.
      Other key aspects of different characters (age, infirmity) will be marked by costuming when possible, or by a note on a name tag.

      Players will be given name tags for their characters when possible. The name tags are out of play, and are there in order to allow characters who are supposed to know one another to recognize one another quickly. If your character wouldn't know another character by his/her face, your character will not be able to recognize the other character by the player's name tag.


      Some characters will have special rules which apply only to them. Those special rules are called "attributes," and will be listed on separate cards. The player is expected to apply those rules to her/his own character's actions.
      Weapons also have special attributes. Each weapon will have a card associated with it, describing its base damage as well as any special rules. A player whose character is armed with a weapon is expected to apply those rules.
      For example, a musket may only fire once before having to be reloaded. Reloading takes a person's full concentration for 20 seconds, during which time s/he may not move or dodge in any way.

Boffer combat

      Melee weapons will be represented by boffer weapons sculpted to appear as swords, clubs, or other weapons; they will not be decorated with red duct tape, so that they can be easily distinguished them from boffer weapons used to represent unarmed combat. Each character will have a single short boffer weapon colored red, to represent unarmed combat. Guns will be represented by gun-like props (some of which may be made as boffer weapons, in which case they will also be usable to pummel or bayonet an opponent in melee combat), and ammunition will be bean-bags -- each time that a gun is fired a beanbag will be thrown.

      A boffer hit will only be counted if the blow was a solid (not glancing) blow. Each hit must be aimed, and may not simply follow up the first hit like a drum-roll (the best way to show that the blows are aimed, is to move one's weapon into a new position between strikes).
      No blow may be aimed at an opponent's head or below the belt. If a blow strikes either of these regions, it does not count.
      IMPORTANT: If at any time, you or anyone else is hurt in any way or in any imminent danger, call a "time out" immediately. All persons must respect the "time out," and resume play only when there is no longer any danger of injury.

      Each time a weapon is swung or beanbag is thrown, the attacking player will call out her/his damage. This will be "wound," "kill," "stun," or "knockout." The base damage for all melee weapons and firearms is "wound," and the base damage for unarmed combat is "stun."
      In melee combat, no character may have more than one melee weapon in use unless s/he has a special skill to do so. However, any player may use a melee weapon in one hand and the short "unarmed combat" boffer in the other.

      If a character is hit with a "wound" in a limb, that limb becomes unusable as though hit by a weapon or bullet in that location (use your imagination). If hit in the torso, the character will be slowed or sluggish, and in poor health (again, use your imagination). If a character is wounded 3 times in any location(s), that character will begin bleeding to death (unable to move, losing blood, unconscious after a count of 20 seconds during which s/he may only talk softly). If a character is wounded two times in the chest, that character will begin bleeding to death (unable to move, losing blood, unconscious after a count of 20 seconds during which s/he may only talk softly). Medical or other skills may be able to save a character who is bleeding to death.
      If a character is hit with a "kill" in a limb, consider the hit to have been a "wound" to the same location. If hit in the torso, the character will begin bleeding to death (unable to move, losing blood, unconscious after a count of 20 seconds during which s/he may only talk softly). Medical or other skills may be able to save a character who is bleeding to death. "Kill" is identical to "wound" unless the torso is hit.

      If a character is hit with a "stun" in a limb, that limb becomes unusable for a period of 5 seconds, as though hit or grappled by a fist (use your imagination); anything held in the limb is dropped. If hit in the torso, the character will be stunned for a period of 5 seconds, though s/he may continue to dodge other strikes or shots. If hit by 2 "stun" blows to the torso in the same 5-second period, the character is subdued or rendered helpless, and may be restrained.
      If a character is hit with a "knockout" in a limb, consider the hit to have been a "stun" to the same location. If hit in the torso, the character becomes unconscious, and will not come to for at least 10 minutes unless seen to by someone with a medical or similar skill. "Knockout" is identical to "stun" unless the torso is hit.

      If a character is struck by a "wound" or "kill" the player should, at the next available opportunity, pin a burgundy strip of fabric to his/her chest, so that others can see that the character has blood on her/himself. The blood remains even after medical attention, until the character changes clothes.
      If a character is struck in the chest by a "kill" blow in melee combat (weather with a melee weapon or unarmed combat), the attacker should pin a burgundy strip of fabric to his/her own chest, so that others can see that the character has blood on him/herself. The blood remains until the character changes clothes.

      If a character is bleeding to death, and is left for dead or otherwise being ignored for more than a couple minutes, the character will be dead. The player should play the body/corpse for as long as s/he feels comfortable, and then leave to find a GM. The player will be given a new cast role.

What you must do if you know you want to be part of Harper's Ferry
  1. Fill out the casting questionnaire below, so we know what role to give you. You will receive a copy of your character before the reenactment.
  2. Familiarize yourself with the information on this web page, your character, and additional information sent to you. If possible, print out the information to bring with you to the event.
  3. Make or obtain some costuming appropriate to your character(s). If you are playing a raider, please bring 19th Century civilian working-class clothes. If you are a member of the cast, please bring a variety of costumes for soldiers and townspeople.
  4. Be sure to come to the event on time with your costuming. If you learn that there is any chance that you may be unable to attend after all, please inform the GMs as soon as possible.

Links of interest and electronic references
Other links that you may wish to review
  • See pages about Mont Saint Michel; a 17th century European LARP by Scott David Gray and Sharon Tripp.
  • See pages about Guy Fawkes Day; a 17th century European LARP by Scott David Gray and Sharon Tripp.
  • Coming Soon The Time of Troubles; a 17th century European LARP by Scott David Gray and Sharon Tripp.
  • See pages about Deep South by Daylight; a modern American LARP by Sharon Tripp and Scott David Gray.
  • See GRAPE; a pen and paper role playing game by Scott David Gray.

The Harper's Ferry Questionnaire

Please use this form to submit your questionnaire. If you have difficulties, write to

Mailing Address:

Almost all of the characters in Harper's Ferry are males between the ages of 20 and 60 (all but three raiders were in their 20s). You must be willing to costume yourself as an adult male to play. If you are not an adult male, verify that you do not have a problem costuming yourself as an adult male (it's OK if you can't do so believably).

Would you prefer to play a raider, or to be a member of the cast?

Rank each of the following statements from 1 (disagreement) to 10 (agreement).
I prefer to be involved in dramatic or emotional scenes.
I prefer problem-solving and intellectual challenges.
I prefer acting, and realizing the subtle aspects of a character.
I know a good bit about the siege of Harper's Ferry by John Brown's raiders, and Virginia prior to the U.S. Civil War.
I am skilled in the use of boffer weapons.

Look at the following list of adjectives. Select any adjectives which describe a character you'd like to play. Determine any adjectives that describe a character you would not like to play. Please only select those adjectives that you feel strongly about.

Are you interested in playing any particular character? Why?

Is there anyone who, if s/he is playing in the event, you would like to interact with? Or not interact with? Bear in mind that wanting to not interact with a particular player will limit the roles available to you, and not the roles available to her/him.

What else would you like us to know before assigning your character? include the description of any medical condition that may affect your participation in the event, elaborate on any of the questions in this questionnaire, give further information to help us decide which character is best for you, or ask your own questions.

For more information, please email

This event is a Subterranean Homesick Games production.