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Thu, 10.19.1820

Dangerfield F. Newby, Abolitionist born.

Dangerfield F. Newby

*The birth of Dangerfield F. Newby is celebrated on this date in 1820. He was a Black abolitionist and blacksmith.

Born into slavery in Culpeper County, Virginia, Newby's father was Henry Newby, a white landowner. His mother was Elsey Newby, who was enslaved, owned not by a neighbor, John Fox. Elsey and Henry lived together for many years in Fauquier County, Virginia, and had several children; they could not marry under Virginia law. Dangerfield was their first child. Dangerfield Newby, his mother, and his siblings were later freed by his father when he moved them across the Ohio River into Bridgeport, Ohio. John Fox, who died in 1859, did not attempt to reclaim Elsey, Dangerfield, or any of his siblings.

Dangerfield worked as a blacksmith in Ashtabula County, Ohio, where he met John Brown. Dangerfield's wife, Harriet Vincent Newby, was the property of Jesse Jennings of Arlington, Virginia. She and their seven children remained enslaved in Virginia. Newby had been unable to purchase their freedom; their owner raised the price after Newby had saved the $1,500 that had previously been agreed on. On October 17, 1859, the citizens of Harpers Ferry set to put down the raid. Newby was one of the first shootings, killing a visiting Charles Town resident and friend of Lewis Washington, George Turner; the details are unknown.  

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. His body remained in the street over a day, "exposed to every indignity that could be heaped upon it by the excited populace." The people of Harpers Ferry stabbed it repeatedly and amputated his limbs. "The treatment the lifeless bodies of those wretched men received from some of the infuriated populace was far from creditable to the actors or human nature in general." "Though dead and gory, vengeance was unsatisfied, and many, as they ran sticks into his wound. or beat him with them, wished he had a thousand lives, be forfeited in expiation of the foul deed he had committed."

The Baltimore Sun describes Newby's body in the street thus: "No one seemed to notice him particularly, more than any other dead animal." Hogs were eating it. "Hog Alley" in Harpers Ferry is said to have gotten its name from this incident. Newby's body, and those of seven of the nine others killed, were thrown in a packing box that went in a pit without ceremony, clergy, or marker. (The bodies of the other two were taken to Winchester Medical College for dissection by students.) In 1899 they were dug up and reburied in a single coffin on the former John Brown Farm in North Elba, New York.

Letters from his wife were found on his body and revealed some of his motivation for joining John Brown and his raid on Harpers Ferry: he hoped to free them by force since no other way had worked. Dangerfield's widow Harriet married William Robinson, from Berkeley County, West Virginia, who served in the Union Army in Louisiana. They raised three children, along with Dangerfield's, and settled near Mount Vernon, Virginia. Harriet died in 1884, and as of 1991, Dangerfield and her descendants "still live in the D.C. area and beyond." A niece of Newby, Ida Newby, graduated from Storer College in 1884.

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