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People & Events
John Brown's black raiders

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On October 16, 1859, John Brown led 21 men on an assault at Harpers Ferry -- an event that shook the nation and [nudged it even closer toward civil war]. Among these raiders were five black men: two of these men would die at Harpers Ferry, two would be captured and executed, and one would escape to Canada.

Dangerfield Newby, a strong, 6'2" African American, was the first of Brown's men to die in the fighting. Born a slave in 1815 but later freed by his white, Scottish father, Newby married a slave who was still in bondage in Virginia. A letter found on his dead body revealed his motive for joining Brown. . .

Dear Husband: I want you to buy me as soon as possible, for if you do not get me somebody else will. The servants are very disagreeable; they do all they can to set my mistress against me. Dear Husband,. . . the last two years have been like a troubled dream to me. It is said Master is in want of money. If so, I know not what time he may sell me, and then all my bright hopes of the future are blasted, for there has been one bright hope to cheer me in all my troubles, that is to be with you, for if I thought I should never see you, this earth would have no charms fo me. Do all you can for me, which I have no doubt you will. I want to see you so much.

Newby's wife was sold after the raid and moved farther to the south.

Lewis Sheridan Leary also died at Harpers Ferry, although he did survive for eight hours after receiving his wounds. Originally from North Carolina, Leary moved to Oberlin, Ohio, where he married Mary S. Patterson. She did not know Leary's plans when he left her and their six-month-old child to rendezvous with Brown. Leary did, however, manage to send his family messages before he died.

A fugitive slave of pure African ancestry, Shields Green accompanied Frederick Douglass to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, where the great abolitionist spoke to John Brown for the last time. Brown was unsuccessful in convincing Douglass to join him in the raid; he did, however, recruit the young Green. Green was captured at Harpers Ferry and later executed. He was reportedly only 23 years old.

Born free in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1834, John Anthony Copeland, Jr. moved to Oberlin, Ohio, in 1842, where he later attended Oberlin College. In September of 1859 he was recruited to John Brown's army by his uncle and fellow black raider, Lewis Sheridan Leary. Copeland's role in the assault was to seize control of Hall's Rifle Works, along with John Kagi, a white raider. Kagi was killed while trying to escape from the factory. Copeland was captured alive. During his trial, in which he was convicted and sentenced to death, he managed to impress many of those with whom he came in contact. Speaking of Copeland, the trial's prosecuting attorney said. . .

From my intercourse with him I regard him as one of the most respectable persons we had. . . . He was a copper-colored Negro, behaved himself with as much firmness as any of them, and with far more dignity. If it had been possible to recommend a pardon for any of them it would have been this man Copeland as I regretted as much if not more, at seeing him executed than any other of the party."

This dignity continued to be evident. On his way to the gallows he was heard to say, "If I am dying for freedom, I could not die for a better cause -- I had rather die than be a slave!"

Of the five black raiders, only Osborn Perry Anderson would escape and remain free. He fled to Canada, but came back to the U.S. and enlisted with the Union army in 1864. Anderson would write the only eye-witness account of the raid, which was published two years after the raid. He died in 1872.

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Related Entries:
John Brown
The raid on Harpers Ferry
Last words from John A. Copeland to family
John Brown's address to the court

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