State of Virginia Pardon for Aaron Dwight Stevens
We, Vic Butsch and Tommy Coletti have written a book, A Journey to the Gallows, about the life, legacy and influence of this important local historical figure who helped changed the course of American history. His efforts eventually lead to changes to the U. S. Constitution in the form of the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth amendments. Through our research and because of those Constitutional amendments, we have concluded that Aaron Dwight Stevens should be pardoned by Virginia for the crimes for which he was hanged.
Aaron Dwight Stevens Pardon Request – Background
On March 16, 1860, Aaron Dwight Stevens was hanged in Charlestown, Virginia. He was a most valuable leader in the John Brown raid at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia in October 1859. The intent of the raid was to rid the country of the evils of slavery. The raid was unsuccessful, but the attempt was fruitful beyond their comprehension. The attack focused the nation on the raiders’ efforts to eliminate slavery, and ignited a monumental divide in this country that lead to the Civil War almost one year from the day, Dwight, as he was called, was hanged.
Stevens was born in Lisbon, but moved to Norwich, at the early age of nine. His father had brought the family to Norwich when he was offered the choir director’s position at the First Congregational Church, which is still in existence on the Norwichtown Green. The Reverend Hiram P. Arms, pastor of that church, and several other Norwich citizens witnessed the hanging of Dwight in Virginia.
Dwight Stevens is a “Norwich and national Treasure” whose short, but important life, was dedicated to his country. He joined the First Massachusetts Regiment during the Mexican War, and served as a U. S. Army Dragoon in the early southwest, Dwight served his country well. He did, however, strongly oppose his country’s position on the issue of slavery. Dwight first fought against the evils of slavery in “Bloody Kansas where he and John Brown met.
The State of Virginia, following the famous “raid on Harper’s Ferry”, indicted him for:
- Advising slaves to rebel and make insurrection
- Conspiring with certain persons to induce slaves to rebel and make insurrection
Dwight was only found guilty and convicted of items 3) and (4).
Dwight should not be forever classified and known as a criminal simply because God gave him the ability and insight to realize slavery was the worst evil in this country long before it became common knowledge. The good he accomplished and the person he truly was should not be hidden beneath the cloud of long ago misdirected laws and horrible customs that thankfully have been abandoned.
Why a Pardon should be granted to Aaron Dwight Stevens.
Aaron Dwight Stevens was a leader in the raid on Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, in October of 1859. The raid was a futile and unsuccessful effort to begin ridding the nation of slavery which was legal at the time. In his 29 years of life Dwight had come to believe that slavery was the worst evil on earth.
Dwight was a noble, serious and patriotic young man who was dedicated to his country.
- He was under age when he left home and joined the 1st Massachusetts Regiment and fought in the war against Mexico. He returned home with an honorable discharge.
- He joined the elite Dragoons and after rigorous training at Carlisle Barracks in Pennsylvania and at Jefferson Barracks in Missouri, he was stationed with the 1st Dragoons, Company F at Cantonment Galisteo, New Mexico.
The raid at Harper’s Ferry and the effort to free the slaves, which began on October 16, 1859, resulted in Dwight’s capture and being seriously wounded despite showing a white flag of truce. Even though the attack was done against a Federal Armory, the action was considered an attack against the State of Virginia and their way of life at that time. After being well taken care of, Dwight recovered from his wounds and was summarily tried. Charges of murder and treason were quickly dropped and he was convicted of: (1) advising slaves to rebel and make insurrection, and (2) for conspiring with certain persons to induce slaves to rebel and make insurrection. As a result of the very short trial, Aaron Dwight Stevens was hanged on March 16, 1860, one year prior to the Civil War which would resolve the slavery issue at the cost of between 600,000 to 800,000 Americans.
This request for a Pardon of Aaron Dwight Stevens is made because we now know the evils of slavery and we have the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to insure our freedom from it ever arising again. Aaron Dwight Stevens should not be forever punished and held in our nation’s history as a traitorous villain, simply because God gave him the ability to visualize how all of us were meant to exist together without slavery long before most people understood. Dwight truly believed we were all equal in the eyes of God, and he willingly gave his life to that belief. Please extend a Virginia State pardon to Aaron Dwight Stevens in recognition of the changes our young country has gone through and the courage he exhibited to fight to the death so that others could be free.
Military Records for Aaron Dwight Stevens
1st Regiment Massachusetts Volunteers – War against Mexico Records
- Joined for Duty Boston Feb. 6, 1847
- Mustered in Boston Feb. 15, 1847
- Pvt. Co. I
- Mustered out Boston July 24, 1848
- Last Paid April 30, 1848 – 3 months extra pay due.
- Pvt. Co. I
- Assume Honorable Discharge (not recorded)
U.S. Dragoons Records
- Voluntary Enlistment as “a soldier in the Army of the United States of America, to serve for five years. April 1, 1851. State of New York, town of New York.
- Assigned to Co. F, 1st Dragoons, New Mexico
- Arrested in Taos N.M. March 8, 1855. Arresting officer – Sherriff Christopher “Kit” Carson
- Tried by General Court Marshal May 21, 1855 in Taos , N.M. and sentenced to death.
- Sentence commuted to 3 years hard labor by Secretary of War Jefferson Davis. Commander and other officers were drunk and later Court Marshalled.
- Aaron Dwight Stevens escaped from Ft Leavenworth in January 1856.
- Used alias Charles Whipple while serving in the 2nd Kansas Militia during “Bloody Kansas” period.