Late on the evening of October 16, 1859, John Brown and his band of 18 raiders descended on Harpers Ferry at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers. In an ill-fated attempt to incite a slave insurrection, they seized the federal arsenal, took hostages and retreated to a fire engine house where they barricaded themselves until a contingent of US Marines battered their way in on October 18.
The raiders were routed, and several were captured. Soon after, they were tried, convicted and hanged. Among Brown’s raiders were five African Americans whose lives and deaths have long been overshadowed by their martyred leader and, even today, are little remembered. Two—John Copeland and Shields Green—were executed. Two others—Dangerfield Newby and Lewis Leary—died at the scene. Newby, the first to go, was shot in the neck, then dismembered by townspeople and left for the hogs. He was trying to liberate his enslaved wife and children.
Of the five, only Osborne Perry Anderson escaped and lived to publish the lone insider account of the event that, most historians agree, was a catalyst to the catastrophic Civil War that followed over the country’s original sin of slavery.
Five for Freedom is the story of these five brave men, the circumstances in which they were born and how they came together at this time and place, grew to manhood and died. Their lives and deaths affected future generations, not just of their descendants, but of us all. It is a story that continues to resonate in the present.