This series of Everyday Conversations is about a family traveling to each of the 50 states in the U.S. Join the family members as they learn about local pastimes and history. These conversations are for intermediate-level English-language learners or higher.

In this conversation, the family visits Harpers Ferry in West Virginia, the site of a famous revolt against slavery.


Claudine: This is the place where Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia meet?

Paul: Yes. We’re in West Virginia, but the borders of Maryland and Virginia are right over there.

Gina: But Harpers Ferry is most famous for John Brown’s raid on an armory in 1859.

Sam: One man raided an armory?

Gina: He wasn’t alone. There were about 20 men with him. And he expected others to join him in his cause.

Claudine: What was his cause?

Paul: Well, this was right before the American Civil War, and there were people who were very opposed to slavery. And John Brown was a staunch abolitionist. His raid was a revolt against slavery.

Gina: And he hoped slaves and freedom fighters would join the raid. But that didn’t happen, and he was defeated.

Now let’s review the vocabulary.

A border is a line that divides one country, state, etc., from another.

A raid is a planned attack that is done suddenly in order to destroy something, search for something and/or take something.

An armory is a place where weapons are kept. The Harpers Ferry Armory was the second government armory in the country.

As a noun, the word cause has different meanings. In this conversation, a cause means something (such as an idea or goal) that people support or fight for.

The adjective staunch means very strong and loyal to a belief or cause.

An abolitionist is a person who wants to abolish (completely end) slavery.

A revolt is a protest against authority, especially a government, that often involves violence.

A freedom fighter is a person who fights against what they think is an unfair government or system. During the time period of John Brown’s raid, a freedom fighter was someone who fought to end the system of slavery.

The American English website offers a variety of free resources for learners and teachers of English. The American English Facebook page posts learning materials for English-language learners daily. The American English for Educators Facebook page posts teaching materials for English-language teachers daily.

Everyday Conversations are developed by the State Department’s Heidi Howland, a senior program officer in the Office of English Language Programs, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

Learn more about planning a trip to the U.S. and applying for a tourist visa.