Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Personality Spotlight: Dangerfield Newby

A letter was found upon the body of one of the five African Americans in John Brown's raiding party on Harper's Ferry. The letter was quite well written, especially for a enslaved person not allowed to learn to read or write in antebellum Virginia. It was a letter of love and desperation; it asked for deliverance. 

 It reads as follows: August 16, 1859 Dear Husband. your kind letter came duly to hand and it gave me much pleasure to here from you and especely to hear you are better of your rhumatism and hope when I here from you again you may be entirely well. I want you to buy me as soon as possible for if you do not get me somebody else will the servents are very disagreeable thay do all thay can to set my mistress againt me Dear Husband you not the trouble I see the last two years has ben like a trouble dream to me it is said Master is in want of monney if so I know not what time he may sell me an then all my bright hops of the futer are blasted for there has ben one bright hope to cheer me in all my troubles that is to be with you for if I thought I shoul never see you this earth would have no charms for me do all you Can for me witch I have no doubt you will I want to see you so much the Chrildren are all well the baby cannot walk yet all it can step around enny thing by holding on it is very much like Agnes I mus bring my letter to Close as I have no newes to write you mus write soon and say when you think you Can Come. Your affectionate Wife HARRIET NEWBY. 

Dangerfield Newby did all he thought he could to try to free his wife and other enslaved people of Virginia by joining Brown and his raiders. His and Brown's efforts to bring freedom to the bondsmen of the Old Dominion proved to be unsuccessful, but their futile attempt in 1859 would eventually bear fruit in 1865, when the Thirteenth Amendment outlawed slavery in the United States. Dangerfield Newby was apparently born in Culpeper County, Virginia, around 1815, to his Scottish White master father and his Black enslaved mother. Since Newby's mother was a enslaved, he too was bound to that status. Newby was later freed by his master father in 1858 when the elder Newby moved to Ohio. But Dangerfield was unable to rid slavery from his existence as he had married Harriet, an enslaved woman. Newby traveled throughout Ohio trying to raise funds to free his wife, but her master in Virginia refused to sell her and his youngest child for under $1000. Newby had raised almost $750 at the time of the raid, but unable to raise more he must have felt that joining Brown and the other raiders was his best chance to free his wife. 

 Another letter, this one written in April of 1859, has also survived. Like the one written in August it is a letter of longing. Harriet asked for Dangerfield to come visit that fall no matter what. He, of course, never made it. Dear Husband I mus now write you apology for not writing you before this but I know you will excuse me when tell you Mrs. gennings has been very sick she has a baby a little girl ben a grate sufferer her breast raised and she has had it lanced and I have had to stay with her day and night so you know I had no time to write but she is now better and one of her own servent is now sick I am well that is of the grates importance to you I have no newes to write you only the chrildren are all well I want to see you very much but are looking fordard to the promest time of your coming oh Dear Dangerfield com this fall with out fail monny or no money I want to see you so much that is one bright hope I have before me nothing more at present but remain your affectionate wife HARRIETT NEWBY 

During the excitement of the raid, Newby shot John Boerly, a Harper's Ferry town grocer, who was on his way to work. Boerly was shot in the groin and bled to death shortly thereafter. Newby and Brown's son Oliver, along with some other raiders tried to hold the Potomac River bridge when they were forced back. 

During the retreat Newby was shot in the lower part of the neck; some said with a metal spike. He was the first of Brown's men to die that day. Newby would not rest in peace. Infuriated townspeople cut off his ears and other body parts, poked sticks in his wounds, and threw him into a ditch where he was soon found by wandering town hogs and partly eaten by them. Newby's Harper's Ferry raid was over quickly. 

Harriet Newby and her children were sold after the raid to a Louisiana planter. It is not know what became of them. Newby's remains eventually were taken to John Brown's farm in North Elba, New York, and buried there.

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