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  • Print publication year: 2015
  • Online publication date: July 2015

23 - Only Slave Stealing


COPELAND AND SENNOTT MADE AN ODD PAIR when they rose to face the court. The defendant was youthful and wiry, with an appearance so neat that one Southern journalist remarked that “he would make a very genteel dining-room servant.” Almost twenty years his client's senior, Sennott overshadowed Copeland in almost every way. His disheveled dress and eccentric personality drew everyone's attention (which was probably beneficial to the silent defendant), and his great size and odd proportions dwarfed nearly everyone in the room. One observer likened him to a “table with an apple on top,” and she did not have a small table in mind.

Sennott immediately moved to strike the treason count, as he had the previous day. This time, the prosecution made no objection and voluntarily dismissed the charge. The case would be tried only on the murder and conspiracy counts, but first a jury had to be selected. “Twenty four freeholders” were summoned by the sheriff, who was instructed to exclude citizens of Harper's Ferry. Needless to say, there were no black persons on the panel, although there were many slave owners. As far as Judge Parker was concerned, the only test for impartiality was whether a prospective juror “had expressed an opinion which would prevent [him from] giving the prisoner a fair and impartial trial,” although the court took precautions not to reject anyone who might mistakenly have shown too much sympathy for the prosecution. In one typical exchange, Parker continued the questioning until he got the right answer:

JUDGE: Have you heard the evidence in the other cases?

JUROR: (Eagerly) yes, sir.

JUDGE: I mean, if you have heard the evidence, and are likely to be influenced by it, you are disqualified here. Have you heard much of the evidence?

JUROR: No, sir.

Once the jury was seated, two witnesses described Copeland's flight from the rifle works and his arrest in the Shenandoah River, adding that he had been armed with a rifle and a spear. The story of the spear was obviously an embellishment – whether prompted by the prosecutor or simply invented by the witness – intended to tie Copeland to the pikes that Brown had distributed at the armory.

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The 'Colored Hero' of Harper's Ferry
  • Online ISBN: 9781139872072
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