History of Jefferson County
African American History
John Brown's Raid. The raid by John Brown to free the slaves served as a
catalyst for the Civil War. Five of Brown's raiders were African-American
men who supported his ideals. They were Lewis Leery, John Copeland, Shields
Green, Dangerfield Newby, and Osborne Anderson. Ironically the first man
killed in the raid, Heyward Shepherd, and the first raider killed, Dangerfield
Newby, were both free African-American men.
Leery and Copeland joined Brown from Oberlin, Ohio, a very abolitionist community,
where Brown had spoken. Leery was married to Copeland's sister. Leery died in the
fighting at Harpers Ferry. Copeland was captured trying to escape. He was tried in
Charles Town, found guilty of murder and inciting slaves to rebel, and was hanged
in Charles Town on December 16, 1859.
Shields Green joined John Brown after a meeting between Brown and Frederick Douglass
in August of 1859 in Chambersburg. When Brown asked Douglass to come along to Harpers
Ferry, he declined. But Green went with Brown. Green was captured with Brown in the
engine house, tried in Charles Town, and was found guilty of murder and inciting slaves
to rebel, both hangable offenses. He was hanged in Charles Town on December 16, 1859.
Both Copeland and Green were found innocent of treason in their trials. In 1859, one had
to be a citizen to be tried for treason. A "colored" man was not considered to be a citizen,
and treason charges for both men were thus dropped. After their deaths, students from the
Winchester Medical School in Virginia took their bodies for dissection; their bodies were
Dangerfield Newby was the first of the raiders to die. Osborne Anderson said Newby had more
to lose than anyone by fighting alongside John Brown, being a free black man with seven children
and a wife in slavery. He was killed in fighting at the bridge in Harpers Ferry. On his body
was found a letter from his wife, imploring him to come home and purchase his family before they
were split up and sent to other areas.
Osborne Anderson, from West Chester, Pennsylvania, was the only one of the black raiders to escape.
He fled Harpers Ferry with Albert Hazeltt when the fighting intensified on Monday, October 17.
Hazlett was captured near Carlisle, Pennsylvania and was returned to Charles Town for trial.
He too was found guilty and was hanged on March 16, 1860. Anderson was one of five of John
Brown's raiders who were never captured. He fled to Canada and wrote a book called "A Black
Voice of Harpers Ferry" which is the only book written by a black raider.
The raiders also killed a free black in the streets of Harpers Ferry. He was Heyward Shepherd,
the baggage master of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. It is ironic that those men who came to free
the slaves ended up causing the first town casualty, a free black man, and that the first raider
casualty was also a free black man.
Storer College. Storer College was opened at Harpers Ferry in 1867 as an African-
American teachers' college. It was founded by philanthropist John Storer and the Freewill Baptist
Church. It became the first institution of higher learning in the state of West Virginia for African
Americans and one of the first in the nation designated as such In 1906, the Niagara Movement held
the first civil rights meetings on U.S. soil at Storer College in Harpers Ferry under the leadership
of W.E.B. Du Bois. These meetings laid the foundation for the formation of the NAACP in 1909.
West Virginia University Libraries West Virginia and Regional History Collectionę 2002
Martin R. Delaney. Charles Town native Martin R. Delaney was the only black officer who achieved
the rank of major during the Civil War. This distinction recognized Delaney's stature as a black leader,
although it proved to be mostly symbolic.
In the years prior to the war, Delaney had been active in the movement to relocate free blacks to Liberia,
where they might have greater freedoms. In 1863 following President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation and
the call for the enlistment of black militia regiments, Delaney began actively recruiting in New England. The
chance to organize his own unit came in February 1865, when Lincoln commissioned him a major in the army.
Delaney hurried to Charleston, South Carolina, and began recruiting two regiments of former slaves. The war
ended two months later, however, before Delaney or any of his men had a chance to participate.
The Hilltop House Hotel. The African American Lovett family built and operated the
Historic Hilltop House Hotel in Harpers Ferry in 1888. The Lovett family had been in the hotel business
in Harpers Ferry since the early 1880's, and had owned and operated such facilities as the Lockwood House,
near Storer College. Thomas Lovett built the Hilltop House after standing on the spot that offered unequaled
beauty, and thinking, " Where the martyrdom of John Brown took place, I will build my hotel". The hotel was
built overlooking the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers. It was ravaged by fire twice, in 1912
and 1918, and each time the family rebuilt.
Thomas Lovett and his wife Lovonia owned and managed the Hilltop House for 38 years, during a time of great
importance to the burgeoning African American movement after the Civil War. The Hilltop House attracted visitors
from far beyond Harpers Ferry, and was recommended by the AAA and the B&O Railroad as an favored destination. Many
famous people such as Mark Twain, Carl Sandburg, Alexander Graham Bell, Pearl Buck and others were guests of the
hotel. In its heyday, it was a major contributor to the economy of Harpers Ferry. Today, the hotel has been found
to be structurally unsound due to years of additions and renovations, and is closed to the public. SWAN Investments
plans to rebuild the hotel based on its 1912 specifications.
Johnsontown. Johnsontown was founded by free blacks in an area outside of Charles Town. A slave
family named Johnson was purchased by German Quakers in Virginia in 1720. This Quaker family gave the Johnson family
their freedom, and brought them to the Jefferson County, WV area to work for them. In 1848, George Johnson purchased
14 acres of land and established Johnsontown. This is believed to be the first all-black town in West Virginia. Most
of the buildings are gone, but a church and cemetery remain. It is commemorated by a highway marker placed by the
Jefferson County Black History Preservation Society.