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Discover Western Prince William May 2018
Doug Horhota
In the early morning hours of October 17, 1859, John
Brown led a group of 21 raiders and seized the Federal
Arsenal in Harpers Ferry, VA (now WV). Intending
to utilize seized weapons by arming slaves, Brown
envisioned an army eliminating the "peculiar institution."
Dangerfi eld Newby is believed to have been in his mid-
40s at the time of the raid. Born near Culpeper, he was the
son of a female slave and free white man. A blacksmith
and boat worker, his master and father moved to Ohio,
where he freed Dangerfi eld the year before the raid. Left
in Virginia, Dangerfi eld's wife and children remained
slaves near Brentsville. Through his connections, loans,
and sympathetic abolitionists, Dangerfi eld was raising
money to free his family and reportedly worked out an
arrangement with his wife's master, but the deal was
never fi nalized. Instead of trying to raise more to buy his
family's freedom, Dangerfi eld arrived at Brown's hideout
near Harpers Ferry a few weeks before the raid with a
personal incentive to end slavery.
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 anything 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,
Letter in the Library of Virginia Collections
Initially Brown's daring raid succeeded by seizing the
weapons. The Federal Armory and
the town of Harper's Ferry were
caught unawares, but instead of
quickly moving the seized weapons
out of town in the pre-dawn hours,
Brown delayed. Local citizens quickly
rallied and using personal weapons
descended on the town and forced
Brown's men to the temporary safety of the Armory
building. Harper's Ferry is formed at the junction of the
Shenandoah River emptying into the Potomac River; the
only land approach is through steep hills. It served as
a trap for Brown when US forces approached the next
day and was the site of the largest surrender by a Union
Army during the Civil War in September 1862.
Newby, one of a handful of raiders who was guarding
the bridge across the Potomac, was shot and killed
instantly by a local citizen. For nearly 24 hours, his body
was ravaged in a gruesome display by people interested
in souvenirs. Buried in a grave with other raiders,
Newby was eventually reburied in New York in the same
cemetery as John Brown.
Harriett Newby was sold to a new master in Louisiana
along with her infant child. After the war, she remarried
and returned to Virginia. The family line continues to the
current day.
Though Brown's Raid is one of the most controversial
and diffi cult episodes in our nation's history, especially
the fate of Dangerfi eld Newby, there are a host of
places to walk in his and his family's footsteps. There
is a historic marker on the Amissville site where the
Newby family lived before moving to Ohio. Operated by
Civil War Trails, the sign and its location can be found
through the website
markers/HMY5T_dangerfi eld-newby_Castleton-VA.html
The exact location of Harriet's Brentsville master's
property is unknown, but Prince William County Historic
Preservation has restored many of the buildings in
this small picturesque community. Today, Brentsville
resembles its appearance when it was the Prince William
County seat from 18201894, including a recently
restored jail (originally built in 1822), as well as a church,
courthouse, and schoolhouse.
The best place to experience the
Brown Raid is about an hour away.
The appearance of Harpers Ferry
was described by Thomas Jefferson
in his Notes on the State of Virginia
written in 1785. "The passage of
the Patowmac (sic)
through the Blue Ridge is
perhaps one of the most
stupendous scenes
in Nature. You stand
on a very high point of land. On your
right comes up the Shenandoah, having
ranged along the foot of the mountain a
hundred miles to seek a vent." Maintained
by the National Parks Service, Harpers
Ferry has some of the region's best
hiking and a movie-scene-worthy restored
community that harkens back to the 1800s.
Park at the Visitor's Center and enjoy the
bus ride into town. It's a wonderful place to
spend a day!
Dangerfi eld Newby
arpers Ferry
You could say he was the fi rst
casualty of the Civil War.
"Dangerfi eld Newby, colored and born a
slave, freeman now, but married to one
not free who, with their seven children
waited him South, the youngest baby
just beginning to crawl."
--Stephen Vincent Benet,
John Brown's Body
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