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Publisher's Summary

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, 1859.

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.

©2018 Eugene L. Meyer (P)2018 Tantor

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Good effort but lacking key information

This is an attempt to publicize the five black raiders in John Brown's party at Harpers Ferry in 1859. It does a decent job at short biographies of the five, but it also makes a few factual errors. (For example, it states that the black raiders who went to Harpers Ferry with Brown carried pikes rather than Sharps rifles, which is not the case. The pikes were for slaves who rose up to use, not African-American raiders. They all had guns.) Speaking of slaves who joined the brief uprising, the author unfortunately gives them short shrift. One gets the idea that he probably only skimmed black raider Osborne Anderson's 1861 first-person narrative of the raid. Anderson, the only one of Brown's combatants inside the Ferry to not get shot or hanged, wrote his account to oppose fake news coming out of Virginia that no slaves voluntarily joined the insurgents. Author Meyer seems to have missed that important point. Additionally, while the author does mention Jean Libby's 1979 book that analyzed Anderson's narrative, I suspect he did not read that closely either, if at all. At any rate, he includes no information from it in his book. In conclusion, Five For Freedom is a decent overview of Brown's raid for the uninitiated, but close students of the affair will find it a bit superficial. Those like myself, specifically interested in slaves who joined the short rebellion, will be keenly disappointed but the lack on information on them in this study.

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Well Deserved Recognition

Meyer writes an engaging and well researched account of the five Afro-Americans who participated in the raid at Harper's Ferry. These are men who deserve to be remembered. For example, John Copeland, who had attended Oberlin College, eloquently states on the day of his execution, "If I am dying for freedom, I could not die for a better cause. I had rather die than be a slave." Meyer's account tells us of just some of what was lost during this sad episode in American history.