Evolutionist John Anthony Copeland Jr, was born free in Raleigh, North Carolina on August 15, 1834 to John Anthony Copeland, a enslaved African and Delilah Evans, a free white woman.  Copeland Jr. spent much of his early life in Ohio and attended Oberlin College.  While residing in Oberlin, Ohio, Copeland became an advocate for black rights and an abolitionist.  In 1858 he participated in assisting John Price, a runaway enslaved African seeking his freedom.  This act became famous as the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue, where abolitionists boldly aided slaves in violation of the federal Fugitive Slave Law.

On the night of Sunday, October 16, 1859, hoping to bring about the eventual end of slavery, radical abolitionist John Brown launched an armed attack at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Among his troops, there were only five black men, who have largely been treated as little more than 'spear carriers' by Brown's many biographers and other historians of the antebellum era. This book brings one such man, John Anthony Copeland, directly to center stage. Copeland played a leading role in the momentous Oberlin slave rescue, and he successfully escorted a fugitive to Canada, making him an ideal recruit for Brown's invasion of Virginia. He fought bravely at Harpers Ferry, only to be captured and charged with murder and treason. With his trademark lively prose and compelling narrative style, Steven Lubet paints a vivid portrait of this young black man who gave his life for freedom.

Once released from jail, Copeland joined John Brown’s group that planned to attack the Federal Arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia.  Copeland was recruited to join Brown's group by Lewis Sheridan Leary.  He and Leary, along with three other African Americans, Osborn P. Anderson, Dangerfield Newby, and Shields Green took part in what they hoped would be Brown's slave manumitting army.  Like Brown and the other followers, Copeland believed that if the group seized weapons at Harpers Ferry and then marched south, they would created a massive slave uprising that would free all of the nearly four million African Americans in bondage.  

On October 16, 1859, John Anthony Copeland along with the rest of John Brown’s revolutionaries raided Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.  The plan was to conquer the arsenal located in Harpers Ferry however, they failed and were captured.  On October 26, 1859, the trial of the survivors of the raid began in Charleston Town, Virginia (now West Virginia).  Copeland and the others were convicted of murder and encouraging slave insurrection and sentenced to death.  Twenty-three year-old John Anthony Copeland Jr. was hanged on December 16, 1859.


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