In an 1847 Springfield, MA meeting with Frederick Douglass, John Brown outlined an idea. Brown planned to arm slaves with weapons stolen from a federal arsenal. This event, which would shock the nation and take it closer to civil war, was the October of 1859, attack on Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. Tragically, this plan was thwarted by marines and militia. Five of the 21 raiders were Africans and the oldest was a man named Dangerfield Newby.
Born a slave in Fauquier County, Virginia in 1815,Newby married a woman also enslaved. Henry Newby, a landowner in Fauquier County. His mother was Elsey Newby, who was a slave, “owned” not by Newby, but by a neighbor, John Fox. Elsey and Henry lived together for many years and had several children, although interracial marriage was illegal in Virginia.
A letter was found on Dangerfield Newby’s body after the failed Harpers Ferry raid explained his motivation for joining the raid at Harper’s Ferry.
BRENTVILLE, August 16, 1859.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 that they can to set my mistress against me. Dear Husband, you are not the trouble I see these last two years. It has been like a troubled dream to me. It is said that the Master is in want of money. If so I know not what time he may sell me. 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 on this earth, life would have no charm for me. Do all you can for me which I have no doubt you will. I want to see you so much. The children are all well. The baby cannot walk yet. The baby can step around any thing by holding on to it, very much like Agnes. I must bring my letter to close as I have no news to write. You must write soon and say when you think you can come.
Your affectionate Wife HARRIET NEWBY.