It was 1857 when John Brown, a White abolitionist, devised a plan to wage war against slavery with an army of enslaved African Americans and abolitionist supporters. His goal was to seize the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry. But his plan of insurrection was put on hold after a disciple of Brown’s turned on him and revealed the conspiracy to authorities.

In New York in August 1859, Brown consulted with Frederick Douglass and Shields Green, an escaped slave from South Carolina, about the attack, hoping to garner their support. However, Douglass proclaimed it a death trap.

On Oct. 16 1859, Brown and his 21-man assault team–five Black men, including Green, Dangerfield Newby and John A. Copeland–set off for Harpers Ferry in Virginia.

Walking miles during the night in heavy rain, the crew reached their destination at 4 a.m. First, they captured the federal armory and arsenal, then the Hall’s Rifle Works (a government weapons supplier). They also captured and held 60 prominent citizens hostage, hoping local Blacks would join them. But outnumbered, Brown’s army was defeated. American soldiers were dispatched to stop the raid.

Brown’s own two sons were killed.

Green, who was a 23-years-old, had the opportunity to escape, but refused to go down without a fight. He and Copeland, 25, were later indicted, tried and convicted with Brown for treason against Virginia, among other crimes. None of them said a word during the trial. On Dec. 16, 1859, Green and Copeland were hanged.

In their honor, a memorial service was held on Christmas Day, along with Lewis Sheridan Leary, who died during the raid. An obelisk-like monument was erected years later in Westwood Cemetery in their honor. For more Black history facts, visit