Dangerfield Newby

Dangerfield Newby was the first man of John Brown’s Provisional Army to die at Harpers Ferry. He was born in 1815 in Culpeper County, Virginia, the oldest son of a white man and an enslaved African-American woman. Mr. Newby married a woman named Harriet, who was also enslaved and belonged to someone else. When Newby’s father moved his entire family to Ohio and freed them, Harriet was left behind in Brentville, Virginia, with their seven children. Dangerfield Newby tried to save up the money to buy his family, but her master wanted $1000 for her and their youngest child, and he was only able to come up with about $750. John Brown’s plan must have looked like his next best option to free his family and have them with him again. After the raid on Harpers Ferry was over, the Marines under the command of Col. Robert E. Lee rifled the bodies of the fallen, looking for clues to what had taken place. What they found in Dangerfield Newby’s pockets were three letters from his wife.

You can see those letters from Harriet to Dangerfield on the 2009 African American Trailblazers in Virginia History site (Dangerfield Newby is one of the honorees).

The letters will break your heart. On April 11, 1859, Harriet wrote:

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. . .

His replies to her do not survive. All we’re left with are the pleading and hopes of Harriet:

Dear Dangerfield you Can not amagine how much I want to see you Com as soon as you can for nothing would give more pleasure than to see you it is the grates Comfort I have is thinking of the promist time when you will be here oh that bless hour when I shall see you once more. . . (April 22, 1859)

And then one more, on August 16th, exactly two months before Dangerfield Newby died in Harpers Ferry:

. . .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. . .

She never saw Dangerfield Newby that fall. After the raid, her master sold her down the river. Literally. Virginia was an exporting state where enslaved people were concerned, and Harriet Newby’s owner, doubtless fearing the association with one of the Provisional Army, sold her south to Louisiana.


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