A former slave, Dangerfield Newby was one of several participants in John Brown’s raid on the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia in October 1859. Newby was the son of his white slave master, Henry Newby, a Scots immigrant, and his slave, Ailsey/Elsie Pollard. After his father freed him, Newby remained in the Shenandoah Valley area, making a living as a blacksmith. His wife, Harriet (Grant) and their six children, however, remained enslaved on a plantation in Warrenton, Virginia.
Newby became involved in Brown’s scheme to facilitate an armed rebellion among the slaves by taking over the arsenal and its surrounding buildings and distributing weapons to enslaved blacks. Newby, who was familiar with the area, supplied arms and other provisions to Brown’s brigade.
Newby was shot by and killed instantly during the gun battle that broke out between white Harper’s Ferry townsmen and the rebels. According to Mary Lawson Newby, her husband, Dangerfield Newby, Jr. often told the story of how his father died: “’He was a slave boy on another farm, and his daddy was coming back to buy the freedom of his wife and two or three young ones when they killed him.” Dangerfield Newby, Jr., who was just four years old when his father was killed, eventually became a minister in Durham, North Carolina.