Everyone is buzzing about the movie “Django Unchained” which has managed to stir up quite a controversy. It is very rare to see a Hollywood depiction of a Black man as the hero in a movie which manages to add humor to America’s painful history which includes slavery.
While many enjoyed the movie and some have strong opinions about it, what many may have missed is that there actually once lived a man named Dangerfield Newby and the movie was loosely based on his experiences with trying to reunite with his wife and his seven children. WHILE WE STATE CLEARLY that we are not entirely sure if Dangerfield was the person the film was based upon, we find that their stories are similar enough that it is conceivable that Dangerfield’s fight was part of the inspiration which led to the creation of the character played by Jamie Foxx.
Dangerfield’s story, sadly, did not end in the same way as Django, but his heroism is no less admirable. Sometimes, the heroes who don’t make it are the greatest heroes of all, for they are the ones who’ve paved the way for us to enjoy the freedoms that we have today. Benevolent whites were certainly important in our quest for freedom, but we must never discount courageous blacks in this struggle as well. No every black person at that time had a slave mentality.
Dangerfield Newby (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 a slave 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. Harriet’s poignant letters, found on his body, proved instrumental in advancing the abolitionist cause. Newby was six foot two.
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.