John Brown’s Black Raiders – Harpers Ferry Revolt 1859
Resource Bank Contents
“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.
On October 16, Brown set out for Harpers Ferry with 21 men — 5 blacks, including Dangerfield Newby, who hoped to rescue his wife who was still a slave, and 16 whites, two of whom were Brown’s sons. Leaving after sundown, the men crossed the Potomac, then walked all night in heavy rain, reaching the town at 4am. They cut telegraph wires, then made their assault. First they captured the federal armory and arsernal. They then captured Hall’s Rifle Works, a supplier of weapons to the government. Brown and his men rounded up 60 prominent citizens of the town and held them as hostages, hoping that their slaves would join the fight. No slaves came forth.
The local militia pinned Brown and his men down. Under a white flag, one of Brown’s sons was sent out to negotiate with the citizens. He was shot and killed. News of the insurrection, relayed by the conductor of an express train heading to Baltimore, reached President Buchanan. Marines and soldiers went dispatched, under the leadership of then Colonel Robert E. Lee. By the time they arrived, eight of Brown’s 22-man army had already been killed. Lee’s men moved in and quickly ended the insurrection. In the end, ten of Brown’s men were killed (including two blacks and both of his sons), seven were captured (two of these later), and five had escaped.
Brown, who was seriously wounded, was taken to Charlestown, Virginia (now Charles Town, West Virginia), along with the other captives. There they were quickly tried, sentenced, then executed. John Brown’s statements during his trial reached the nation, inspiring many with his righteous indignation toward slavery. The raid ultimately hastened the advent of the Civil War.
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.”
I believe this story should be credited as having Inspired the character Django.