In the 2012 movie Django Unchained, a freed slave (Django) sets out to rescue his wife from a ruthless plantation-owner in Mississippi, and he does this with the help of a German bounty-hunter, whom he had helped track down a murderous pair of brothers and seek out the South’s most wanted criminals. But to free his long-lost wife, Django had to make a lot of sacrifices, including having to face a treacherous organization with pistols blazing.
The story of Dangerfield Newby, the actual man on which the movie is loosely based, is even more deadly, but one fact remains: love conquers all. Newby, a formerly enslaved man, was determined to get back the love of his life who was still enslaved by a brutal plantation owner. Thus, he didn’t think twice about joining a deadly plot by abolitionist John Brown to raid a Virginia armory to seize weapons for a planned slavery rebellion. Newby would pay dearly for that failed raid on Harper’s Ferry, Virginia in October 1859.
Born enslaved in Fauquier County, Virginia, in 1815, Newby was the son of a white slaveowner and Scots immigrant Henry Newby, and his slave, Ailsey Pollard. Newby was later freed by his Scottish father and started work as a blacksmith. However, his wife, Harriet, and their six children remained enslaved on a plantation in Warrenton, Virginia. Newby began saving to purchase the freedom of his wife and children. And after working so hard to get the $1500.00 that had originally been agreed on to buy their freedom, their owner raised the price.
Newby was left with no choice but to use force to free his wife and children. So he became one of the many participants in John Brown’s raid on the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, in October 1859. Brown was an abolitionist who demanded a more aggressive stance on slavery. He battled pro-slavery citizens in Kansas and Missouri before leading a raid on the federal munitions depot at Harper’s Ferry in October 1859, with the belief that enslaved men and women would rise up against their slaveowners amid his actions.
Newby, familiar with the area, joined 21 other men, including Brown to launch the attack on the Virginia armory on October 16. When the people of Harper’s Ferry learned that the armory had been attacked, they brought together the militia and a gun battle broke out. The United States government also sent in Marines to the scene. Newby died amid the gunfire. All in all, ten of Brown’s men were killed, and his planned rebellion with Newby and others failed. Nevertheless, the Harper’s Ferry raid helped trigger the South’s secession from the Union and the beginning of the Civil War.
It is documented that after the raid, the people of Harper’s Ferry took Newby’s body, stabbed it several times, and amputated his limbs. They then left his body in an alley to be eaten by hogs. In 1899, however, the remains of Newby and nine others who were involved in the raid were reburied in a common grave near the body of Brown in North Elba, New York. Brown, after the raid, was tried and found guilty of treason against the Commonwealth of Virginia. He was sentenced to death by hanging.
Newby, the oldest of Brown’s raiders, was the first of his men to die at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. Indeed, that was a deadly mission Newby undertook, but a letter from his wife found on his dead body after the raid tells us why he risked it all.
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