Dangerfield Newby, The Real Django: In the 2012 film Django Unchained, a freed slave (Django) sets out to save his wife from a violent plantation owner in Mississippi, with the help of a German bounty hunter who had previously assisted him in tracking down a homicidal pair of brothers and locating the South’s most wanted felons. Django had to make a lot of sacrifices to rescue his long-lost wife, including facing a dangerous organization with guns blazing.
The true story of Dangerfield Newby, on whom the film is partially based, is even more dangerous, but one thing is constant: love conquers all. Newby, a freed slave, was desperate to reclaim his beloved, who was still oppressed by a cruel plantation owner. As a result, he didn’t think twice about joining abolitionist John Brown’s deadly conspiracy to invade a Virginia arsenal in order to obtain weapons for a planned slave insurrection. The botched raid on Harper’s Ferry, Virginia in October 1859 would cost Newby dearly.
Newby was born enslaved in 1815 in Fauquier County, Virginia, to white slave-owner and Scots immigrant Henry Newby and his slave, Ailsey Pollard. Newby’s Scottish father later set him free, and he went to work as a blacksmith. His wife, Harriet, and their six children, on the other hand, remained enslaved on a Virginia plantation. Newby began saving in order to buy his wife and children’s freedom. After working so hard to obtain the $1500.00 that had been agreed upon to purchase their freedom, their owner increased the price.
Newby had no choice but to resort to violence in order to free his wife and children. As a result, in October 1859, he was one of several people who took part in John Brown’s raid on the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. Brown was an abolitionist who advocated for a more forceful anti-slavery position. Before conducting an attack on the government armaments station at Harper’s Ferry in October 1859, he fought pro-slavery residents in Kansas and Missouri, hoping that enslaved men and women would rise up against their slave-owners as a result of his acts.
On October 16, Newby, who was familiar with the area, joined 21 other men, including Brown, to attack the Virginia armory. When the citizens of Harper’s Ferry realized that the armory had been attacked, they gathered the militia, and a gunfight ensued. Marines from the United States government were also dispatched to the location. Newby was killed in the crossfire. Ten of Brown’s men were slain in total, and his planned uprising with Newby and others was thwarted. Nonetheless, the Harper’s Ferry raid aided in the secession of the South from the Union and the start of the Civil War.
The residents of Harper’s Ferry are said to have taken Newby’s body after the raid, stabbed it numerous times, and dismembered his limbs. They then dumped his body in an alley for hogs to consume. Newby’s remains, along with those of nine other raiders, were reburied in a single cemetery beside Brown’s body in North Elba, New York, in 1899. Brown was tried and found guilty of treason against the Commonwealth of Virginia after the raid. He received a death sentence by hanging.
At Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, Newby, Brown’s oldest raider, was the first of his men to die. Indeed, Newby’s mission was dangerous, but a letter from his wife discovered on his body after the raid explains why he took such a risk.
I’d like you to buy me as quickly as possible because if you don’t, someone else will. The servants are a pain to work with. They are doing everything they can to turn my mistress against me. Dear Husband, you are not the source of my concern. To me, the last two years have felt like a nightmare. It is reported that Master is short on cash. If that is the case, I have no idea when he will sell me, and then all my bright future hopes will be dashed, for there has only been one bright hope to cheer me in all my trials, and that is to be with you because this world would have no charms for me if I believed I would never see you. Do whatever you can for me, which I am confident you will. I’m desperate to see you. All of the children are fine. The baby can’t walk yet; all it can do is step around objects while holding on. It looks a lot like Agnes. I need to bring my letter to Close because I have nothing to report. You must write as soon as possible, stating when you believe you will be able to come.
Your affectionate Wife,