Dangerfield Newby, The Real Django (1815 – 1859) was the oldest of John Brown‘s raiders, one of five black raiders, and the first of his men to die at Harpers Ferry, Virginia.
Born as enslaved African in Fauquier County, Virginia, Newby married a woman also enslaved. Newby was later freed by his Scottish father, but his wife and seven children remained in bondage. A letter found on his body revealed the motive for joining John Brown and the raid on Harpers Ferry.
Newby’s wife was the slave of Jesse Jennings, of Arlington or Warrenton, Virginia. She and her children were sold to Louisiana after the raid. Newby had been unable to purchase the freedom of his wife and seven children. Their master raised the price after Newby had saved the $1,500 that had previously been agreed on. Because all of Newby’s other efforts had failed he hoped to free them by force.
On the 17th of October, 1859, the citizens of Harpers Ferry set to put down the raid. Harpers Ferry manufactured guns but the citizens had little ammunition, so during the assault on the raiders they fired anything they could fit into a gun barrel. One man was shooting six inch spikes from his rifle, one of which struck Newby in the throat, killing him instantly.
After the raid, the people of Harpers Ferry took his body, stabbed it repeatedly, and amputated his limbs. His body was left in an alley to be eaten by hogs. In 1899 the remains of Newby-plus remains of nine other raiders-were reburied in a common grave near the body of John Brown in North Elba, New York. Dangerfield Newby’s descendants are still alive today; Tyler Newby currently lives in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. Josh Newby lives in a suburb of San Francisco, California and Drew Szrom lives in Massachusetts.
Harriet’s poignant letters (Dangerfield Newby’s wife), found on his body after the failed Harpers Ferry raid, proved instrumental in advancing the abolitionist cause.
Hariett’s letter: BRENTVILLE, August 16, 1859
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 against 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