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The 'Colored Hero' of Harper's Ferry
John Anthony Copeland and the War against Slavery

$33.99 (G)

  • Date Published: September 2015
  • availability: Available
  • format: Hardback
  • isbn: 9781107076020

$ 33.99 (G)

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About the Authors
  • 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.

    • The first and only biography of one of John Brown's African American comrades
    • Tells a previously unknown story of black agency in resisting slavery during the antebellum era
    • Shows the creative tactics used by the lawyers who defended African Americans against charges of treason in Virginia
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    Reviews & endorsements

    "In this vivid account of John Anthony Copeland and his times, Steven Lubet has recovered from unjust obscurity the story of a young man of deep passion and moral commitment. With both narrative verve and a telling eye for the dramatic, he has also given us an intimate portrait of the competing worlds of slavery and abolitionist activism on the cusp of the Civil War. The 'Colored Hero' of Harpers Ferry is a significant addition to our understanding of the brave but tragic saga of John Brown and his men."
    Fergus M. Bordewich, author of America's Great Debate: Henry Clay, Stephen A. Douglas, and the Compromise that Preserved the Union

    "The 'Colored Hero' of Harpers Ferry is a well-researched and highly readable work of scholarship. Steven Lubet chronicles in fine detail the life and tragic death of a 'colored' participant in John Brown's ill-fated raid on the arsenal at Harpers Ferry. The author brings the raid, its characters, and its aftermath to life in vivid detail, never abandoning the thread that ties the idealistic young John Anthony Copeland to the antebellum movement to abolish slavery."
    Ron Soodalter, author of Hanging Captain Gordon: The Life and Trial of an American Slave Trader, and The Slave Next Door: Human Trafficking and Slavery in America Today

    "In this well-researched and well-written book, Steven Lubet tells the tale of John Anthony Copeland, one of only five black men to join John Brown in his attack on Harpers Ferry. By focusing on one of the men, and on a black man, Lubet has given us a fresh and fascinating perspective on the months just before the Civil War."
    Walter Stahr, Presidential Fellow, Chapman University

    "Steven Lubet is a master storyteller. In this book, he tells the story of a little-known well-educated black man, John Anthony Copeland, who joined John Brown at Harpers Ferry. The insurrection is told from the perspective of Copeland, a pious abolitionist who thought he was there to rescue enslaved people and escort them to freedom as he had helped runaways to Canada before … Copeland was one of only five black men who were recruited to John Brown's cause, though he only knew of Brown's true purpose shortly before the shooting began. From Lubet's careful reading of original material, he is able to piece together a thoroughly engrossing tale. A story to be read and remembered."
    Lea VanderVelde, Josephine Witte Professor of Law, University of Iowa College of Law

    "Steven Lubet provides readers with an impeccably researched study of John Anthony Copeland and his death for a "holy cause" in the raid on Harper’s Ferry … With brilliant storytelling and careful attention to relationships and exchanges between a multitude of actors pursuing their personal and broader political agendas, he reconstructs the complex, tension-filled political landscape of antebellum America as he documents events leading up to the assault on the arsenal. While recognizing Brown’s instrumental role, Lubet unveils the agency of Copeland and other lesser-known participants, adeptly putting them on center stage with their larger-than-life leader … A concise, easy-to-read work, it is a rich resource for scholars of African American and Civil War history. The book’s length, endnotes, and bibliography make it ideal for use in upper-level undergraduate courses and graduate seminars. It should also appeal to a broad range of serious, general readers of American history."
    Gordon S. Barker, Civil War Book Review

    'The 'Colored Hero' of Harper’s Ferry is a welcome addition to an extensive literature on Brown and the Harpers Ferry raid … this impressively researched book is a must-read for students of abolitionism.' Justin Behrend, The Journal of American History

    'The book presents a very personal war against slavery fought out in daily practice and personal experience. Making one of the most famous events in American history into one of many events in an often glossed over historical figure’s life is no small achievement. Through Copeland’s life, this book highlights how free people of color, fugitives, and their white allies braved considerable violence and were willing to enact violence … and that is an important narrative.' Vanessa Holden, The Journal of Southern History

    'This is a very good book, well-paced and replete with interesting moments and finely noted details. … Full of such fascinating details, The 'Colored Hero' of Harper’s Ferry: John Anthony Copeland and the War against Slavery will appeal to a wide readership. Lubet’s writing is concise and approachable, and Copeland’s story is engrossing.' Keith D. McCall, The Journal of African American History

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    Product details

    • Date Published: September 2015
    • format: Hardback
    • isbn: 9781107076020
    • length: 282 pages
    • dimensions: 235 x 160 x 24 mm
    • weight: 0.61kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. The frozen river
    2. 'A good abolition convention'
    3. The colony and the college
    4. 'A most well disposed boy'
    5. 'I have found paradise'
    6. 'My object in coming to Oberlin'
    7. 'Not a fugitive was seized'
    8. The new marshal
    9. 'Recital of the wrong and outrage'
    10. Wack's tavern
    11. A brace of pistols
    12. The Oberlin rescue
    13. 'The black mecca'
    14. The felons' feast
    15. Votaries of the higher law
    16. 'The bravest Negroes'
    17. The invisibles
    18. The war department
    19. Hall's rifle works
    20. 'His Negro confession'
    21. Nothing like a fair trial
    22. An abolition harangue
    23. Only slave stealing
    24. 'This guilty land'
    25. The colored American heroes

  • Author

    Steven Lubet, Northwestern University School of Law
    Steven Lubet is the Edna B. and Ednyfed H. Williams Memorial Professor of Law at Northwestern University School of Law and a leading authority on African American resistance to slavery and notable trials in American history. He is the award-winning author of numerous books, including Murder in Tombstone: The Forgotten Trial of Wyatt Earp, Fugitive Justice: Runaways, Rescuers, and Slavery on Trial and John Brown's Spy: The Adventurous Life and Tragic Confession of John E. Cook. Lubet has been an award-winning columnist for the American Lawyer Magazine, a commentator on NPR's Morning Edition, and the author of many op-ed pieces in national newspapers and on and

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